World Autism Day – April 2012This week is a special week for all those teachers, educationalists and teaching assistants who are involved in teaching and supporting young children on the autism spectrum. April 2nd is the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Every year, for the past five years, organisations with an involvement in autism or in related fields such as Asperger’s Syndrome on this day celebrate the uniqueness of these conditions. Market research undertaken by the National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago, postulated that there were perhaps 500,000 people in the country with some form of autism. Many children with autism find it difficult to interact and participate with their fellow pupils, however, a fascination with dinosaurs, dinosaur models and facts and figures about prehistoric animals can help build a bridge between school children.Autism and DinosaursAutism is very debilitating, affecting the way that people with this condition interact and communicate with the rest of the world. They can find it difficult to make sense of the world around them and can be over-sensitive to sensory stimuli. A lot of research has been undertaken over recent years to try to understand these complex conditions. One thing that now seems certain, neither Autism or other related conditions such as Asperger’s are related to low intelligence. A number of teachers have used a subject area that the child on the autism spectrum is comfortable with to aid them with their school work and to help them to participate in classroom activities. Lesson plans about dinosaurs with children on the autism spectrum who are obsessing about dinosaurs can prove to be a rewarding area to explore for the teaching staff.
Obsessing on Dinosaurs and Prehistoric AnimalsChildren on the autistic spectrum, may have a tendency to obsess on certain objects or subjects. Very young children, in our experience can become fixated with cartoon shows or television programmes, or indeed characters seen in these programmes. Some older children obsess about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, much to the vexation of their parents and guardians who struggle to keep up. Teachers and teaching support staff try to assist where they can. For example, one of the attractions of dinosaurs to children on the Autism Spectrum are the long names and all the complicated facts associated with these prehistoric monsters. Some children on the spectrum, seem able to retain vast amounts of information related to their favourite dinosaurs and can recite an astonishing amount of factual information about these prehistoric creatures.Dinosaur Facts and FiguresThe use of dinosaur fact sheets and pronunciation guides with parents/guardians who in turn pass these on to their charges can help young children on the autistic spectrum to feel comfortable with a term topic based around dinosaurs. It is very likely that other pupils in the classroom will have an interest in prehistoric animals due to the amount of exposure these creatures get when they appear in television programmes or children’s books. The child with special educational needs can participate more readily in dinosaur themed activities and they are often keen to demonstrate their extensive subject knowledge. This can help make them feel more involved in the day-to-day activities of the classroom.
On this special week our thoughts are even more with those sufferers and with their families and teachers who work with special educational needs. It is important that the uniqueness of the individual is celebrated.An Example of Using Dinosaur Themed ResourcesSome children on the autistic spectrum are not included in mainstream education. There are a number of specialised schools which offer the dedicated support that these children need. One of the teaching resources that has been recently developed to aid such schools is a simple dinosaur themed teaching alphabet. Each letter in the alphabet is represented by a dinosaur. The twenty-six cards appeal to the children’s desire to collect items as well as helping to reinforce their understanding of the alphabet. A set of dinosaur based fact cards can make a useful resource for slightly older children with an obsession for dinosaurs, or simply exploring ideas using art materials can help teachers and teaching assistants engage with a young child with a dinosaur obsession who happens to be on the autistic spectrum.