Light it up Blue!

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The Empire State Building will be lit up blue today.

No, it's not a late April Fool's joke. April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day, and as part of Autism Awareness Month, many buildings across the world will be lit up blue to commemorate the event and spread awareness.

Autism awareness is even more important now as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report last week estimating that 1 in 68 children aged 8 years old are identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This number has increased from 1 in 88 children back in 2008, and 1 in 150 in 2000 when the CDC first monitored this diagnosis.

Last year's Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) folded sub-categorical diagnoses such as Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder into the now larger more encompassing ASD label.

So what does this mean? With 1 in 68 children, and 1 of 42 boys on the spectrum, most teachers will see students with symptoms of ASD at some point in their teaching career.

How should teachers address this in the classroom?  To start, The University of North Carolina's "Structured TEACCHing" program advocates that teachers:

  •  Individualize interventions based on the individual's strengths, difficulties and special interests.
  • Use visual or written supports to supplement auditory language-based information.
  • Make the sequence of daily activities predictable and understandable using visual supports, such as a schedule of upcoming activities. Depending on developmental level, this may take the form of objects, picture, or written words.
  • Organize the physical environment and visually highlight important features of both the surroundings (such as where to sit, stand, walk, etc.) and activities (such as where to focus attention or put materials).
  • Work specifically on flexibility and generalization by changing the sequence of activities and introducing new elements (e.g., location, materials, staff or peers, etc.).
  • Stimulate and support meaningful, self-initiated communication (in contrast to prompted speech or rote memory).
  • Collaborate with families, which include teaching parents Structured TEACCHing strategies as well as incorporating parents' concerns, needs, and wisdom into interventions.

How have you addressed autism in the classroom?  Please share in the comments section.