School is starting back up again soon, so we’re going to focus solely on how nerve-wrecking going back to school for any a child with autism and their family can be. Luckily at Autism Academy, we are very accomplished with teaching autistic children and knowing the proper teaching techniques for children with autism. We are a school that focuses on knowing the right pieces of the puzzle for education and development. For any questions about our teaching techniques or our school, please contact us.

Getting Ready for the First Day

A local Decatur, Georgia newspaper recently told the story of a father, Todd Tomerlin, as he guided his 16-year-old son with autism through the halls of the teen’s new high school, East Limestone High. Unlike past first days of school, this one was particularly tough for Todd as it was the first time his son, named Gage, would be on his own at school.

“I don’t know if he ever has or he ever will get accustomed to school. Change is so difficult for him; it is for all children with autism,” Todd Tomerlin said. “As a parent of a child with autism, it is scary to send your kid off to school. You have to try to stay positive, though, because your child will feed off your attitude.” As we know, the number of autism diagnoses has been sharply increasing and now more and more schools are having to reckon with how to best serve their students with autism.

For the Tomerlins, they have been experimenting with the back-to-school routine since Gage was thirteen. Some methods that have proven successful include creating a story that will illustrate to Gage how his day will go. Another one is driving him up to where they will drop him off each day, as well as where they will pick him up. And in Gage’s particular case, they know to cut the tags off of his clothes .

“It seems like such a random thing, but tags on clothes can bother them immensely. They already have so much to overcome at school, you don’t want anything else, like a tag, to be a hindrance to their learning,” said Todd Tomerlin. One thing that differentiates Todd from other parents is the fact that he is Autism Society of Alabama’s community and outreach coordinator of north Alabama. And while Todd and his wife are happy to share basic tips on preparing a child for school, they are also quick to note that each child is different and families need to prepare based on their child’s particular strengths.

The Importance of Teachers

Of course, only so much responsibility can rest with the parents. It is ultimately the teacher who is responsible for making sure children are educated, regardless of their background. According to Annie Granger, an elementary school teacher, the number of children with autism has increased from seven, when she started back in 2009, to eleven, in line with the overall national increase. Granger’s classes can get rather cramped as at one point her room was crammed with eleven students, five adult aides, and a service dog.

“There is no limit. I won’t turn anyone in need of help away. My colleagues joke that there is a flashing sign on my door that says ‘Autism is open.’ If other schools in the district are having trouble with a child, they will call me in to evaluate the student and see if he or she would be a good candidate for our program here,” said Granger, who also serves as her county’s Special Olympics coach.

While Granger herself attributed the growth to the improved ability for doctors to diagnose, her colleagues were quick to point out that Granger’s reputation in the community has likely assisted the increase. Tara Bachus, director of special education for Limestone County, was so impressed with Granger’s work that she nominated her for a National Lifechanger award, writing that “She has dedicated her life to raising awareness of autism and to the improvement of student services. Miss Annie, as she is known, works tirelessly each year with community members and non-profit organization to raise money for her school’s students with autism.”

Granger’s initiatives have included the creation of a sensory integration room replete with trampolines, crash pad, lava lamps, and iPads to help non-verbal students to find their voice. “The first year we used the iPads, the superintendent came in and asked a nonverbal student what his favorite toy was. The student was able to reply with Thomas the Train. Too many people underestimate my kids. They come into my class and they will learn,” Granger said.

Part of the reason Granger is so passionate about educating students with autism is that she herself battled with learning disabilities caused by an auditory processing disorder and was told that even if she went to college, she would likely not graduate. However, in 2004, Granger graduated from Athens State and earned the special education major student of the year award from the Alabama Council for Exceptional Children.

“I know the frustration of not understanding. My disability, though, was just in remembering math equations. My students can’t talk,” Granger said. “I have been kicked, bitten and hit, but that hasn’t stopped me. The joy of seeing my kids reach milestones keeps me going. If they fight, it is not because they are mean, it is because they can’t tell you what they want. That is why I am here, to teach them how to communicate.”

Some Tips From A Teacher

Granger also provided some tips to parents to assist them in helping their child to make the adjustment to the classroom. She advised taking children shopping for school supplies alongside packing their backpacks and practicing going to school and their classroom in the morning, establishing a routine a week early and creating a social story. “The social story has pictures of the school routine along with photos of the actual school and staff. This step needs to be repeated on a daily basis,” Granger said. In addition, she stressed the importance of establishing a daily dialogue with teachers to track a child’s development and see which areas they are excelling at and those that need more work.

It’s teachers like Granger who serve as symbols of the power of education to transform children with autism. “I have seen children go from not talking, not being potty trained and not being able to read to being able to do all of those things at the end of the school year,” Granger said. “Autism is where the little things are never little, but the milestones are a celebration. Every day my students accomplish something and we have a party. I encourage parents to try because you never know what may happen.” These are certainly wise words to keep in mind as we enter the school year.