Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Every child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is different, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Children with ASD typically have difficulties with socialising and communicating with others. Although they may have social difficulties they are usually very keen to join in, they just might not know how. Some kids with ASD might have lots of language and others might only use a few words or no words.

Children with ASD may like things to be done in a particular way or order, they may have a favourite activity that they are happy to do over and over again, and they may find it harder to switch between tasks quickly or without much warning.

Some kids with ASD may find loud noises or particular sounds or textures uncomfortable. As every child is different, it is important that the teacher gets to know each child’s likes and dislikes, to be able to make dance as inclusive as possible for all kids.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

  • A child with ASD might stand too close, talk too loud, or say things that don’t seem to fit.
  • They might have difficulties expressing themselves or understanding what things said to them mean.
  • They might find it harder to know when or how to join in activities with other kids, which means they may choose to keep to themselves if they’re not shown how to join in or play within a group. Some children may not like making eye contact.
  • They might find it harder to understand instructions. They may find it harder to move between tasks, or they may become upset if plans are changed without warning.

Consider how you give instructions and communicate

Use simple words and repeat. Some kids might need simple instructions which may need to be repeated multiple times. Learning a dance step might require a number of slow repetitions. Break the moves down. Teach one step at a time.

Minimise distractions

Minimising background noise and distractions while giving instructions can help all kids hear and focus on the teacher.

Use music to motivate

Music can be a great way to motivate a child to dance and to help them move in time with a beat.

Use visual instructions

Visual instructions about how to do a skill might be needed for some kids. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when teaching.

Speak calmly

Don’t raise your voice or shout at a kid, some kids may be very sensitive to negativity.

Prepare kids for changes in activities

Stop or change activities carefully. Some kids may get upset if someone interrupts the way they do something. Allowing them to take a break or to keep doing things their own way might help. Use the same cue to change activities, for example, a hand clap or a drum beat.

Make each session as structured as possible

Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session. Name each part of the class in the same way each lesson: For example, “Let’s begin with our warm-up”.

Use a visual schedule

Use a visual schedule kids can see at all times so they know what is coming up and can easily transition from one activity to the next. You could use a whiteboard or flip chart.

Use a clock

Use a large clock or timer that kids can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.

Adapt activities to be as inclusive as possible

  • Shorten activities: Some kids might not be able to focus for a long time on one activity. Short movement games could be alternated between dance exercises.
  • Try small groups: Some kids might need to work in smaller groups so they feel safe.
  • Match groups on skill level: Matching kids at the same dance skill level in small groups may help kids feel at ease and confident that they fit in.
  • Joining in may take time: A child might not be able to join in with the group right away. Let them join the group in their own time.
  • Allow alternate ways to join in: If a child with coordination difficulties can’t do a turn, adapt to a side step or quarter turn.
  • Let kids wear their own dance clothing: A child may be more comfortable wearing their own dance outfit.

Use props to keep student’s motivated

Use props to add tactile or visual pleasure and to support movement qualities, rhythm, and freedom of expression. Common props include scarves, coloured plastic “scarves,” ribbon wands, stretchy bands, rhythm instruments, lightweight balls, balloons and textured fabrics like faux fur.

Engage the students’ interests to keep them motivated

Learn about students’ interests and favourite things, (e.g., colours, teams, animals, characters, songs, or topics). Use this information to engage their attention in class. For example, if a student loves the colour red, create an exercise in which they can use a red scarf or red hoop to dance with.

Consider different roles

Kids can do other roles if they don’t want to dance (e.g. music operator, choreographer, props organiser etc).

Slow things down

Slow down each dance move the first few times it is shown so kids have time to learn.

Break the steps down

Break the moves down. Teach one step at a time.

Start with few rules

  • Introduce a few key rules to be followed in the dance class:  Introduce further rules one at a time when kids have learned the flow of the activity.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning new movement skills: Some kids might need extra practice.
  • Use dance stories: These are stories with pictures that can help teach kids a dance move or help them manage their emotions.

Make the venue safe

Some kids with ASD might run away when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. A safe, tidy studio may help parents and their kids feel at ease. Have parents or a buddy help keep an eye on kids.

Things to consider

Some children with ASD can experience high levels of anxiety or worry. See the tips for Anxiety to help them in the dance class.

Find out more

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