How does autism impact the education of a student with the intellectual disability?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Autism is a condition first mentioned by Leo Kanner in 1943.  This condition stems from and affects mainly the neurological (brain) system. The salient trait that determines the condition, which shows its signs at an early age, is an overall inability to communicate with others, deficiencies in interaction, and a lack of affect. The latter is a result of not making the social connections that children often tend to form. 

Autism is thought to be a form of mental deceleration but current studies show that all this condition affects everyone differently. Sometimes an autistic individual may show advanced language skills. This is called Asperger Syndrome. Another variation of autism is Pervasive Developmental Delay, which consists on all the traits described in individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

When autism is the cause of intellectual disability, the job of the teacher is to meet with the special needs committee at the school-level and create an Individual Education Plan. This entails that the teacher will use specific communicative activities that will expand or trigger verbal language responses. Since the cause of autism is still being researched, the statistics show that it is on the increase. The implications are that more funding should be spent on additional teacher training to develop new interventions for the academic success of autistic students.

The manner in which autism affects is mainly in the combination of action/reaction. The average scope and sequence in the typical curriculum include application activities. The performance level helps the teacher determine the developmental level, even the lexile level, of each student.

Hence, a student suffering from autism is often detached from her environment, meaning that there is no way of implementing a functional/notional approach; in other words, there will not be an action/reaction noticeable enough for the teacher to assess.  

The solution is to focus more on helping the student acquire the communication skills rather than try to grind lessons. When any student has trouble communicating half of the taught material goes to waste. Acquiring the skill should always come first and the academics will surely follow.