Special Educational Needs Teachers

Special educational needs teachers will be involved in the student’s behavioural, social, and academic development.  They will need to assist them to develop emotionally and academically.  Special needs teachers have to teach Autistic children to interact effectively in social situations, preparing students for daily life and if possible, prepare them for a job. Helping Autistic children to learn life skills is of cardinal importance!

Teachers that have extensive knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders must be employed to assist children with Autism sensory problems and behavioural difficulties as children living with Autism are emotionally vulnerable.

Teachers need to create a safe, supporting and stimulating environment that will enable each Autistic student to become the best that they can be.  It is important that Autistic children experience success.  Success will encourage them to leave their “own world” and encourage them to venture into our world.  The special needs teacher and the family is responsible for the child’s development and growth. Making the student understand that you accept them just as they are will encourage them to join society.

It is important for special needs teachers to form small groups of pupils that is more or less at the same level and to prepare lessons and resources that the children can easily cope with.  This means that the special needs teacher has to develop and adapt conventional teaching methods that will meet the individual need of every pupil in the small group.

Innovative special needs teachers will experiment with equipment such as computers and audio-visual materials to stimulate the children’s interest.  Ideally parents and caregivers should be included in the above mentioned experiments.

Autistic children learn from experience; therefore learning outside the classroom is important.  It is common knowledge that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have a problem with imagination.  To compensate for lack of imagination it is best if they can experience and see what they read about in the books and videos that they watch. 

Example: A child with Aspergers Syndrome is shown a picture of a car.  When the teacher takes him outside and shows him the real car in the driveway, the child does not recognise the car as the same car that he saw in the picture.  This example proves that the special education teachers needs to be a special breed of educator; without understanding and accepting the Autistic child’s special needs, the teacher will not be able to teach or motivate the child.

Due to the fact that every child living with Autism has different symptoms, teachers have to develop individual educational programs and goals, appropriate to each child’s needs. Severely Autistic children can bite themselves, bang their heads, injure themselves, or refuse to eat, requiring special interventions.  To ensure continuity special needs teachers have to work closely with the parents, informing them on a regular basis of the child’s progress.  Teachers should inform and suggest techniques to promote learning outside of the school as well.

Helping children living with Autism, especially Asperger Syndrome can be challenging, yet highly rewarding.  It can also be emotionally demanding and physically draining. It can take time for the student to understand concepts that cannot be seen, touched or experienced.  Throughout the struggle to teach, the special needs teacher must positively focus on the child’s abilities rather than on the child’s limitations.

Autism teachers are teachers who love to help others.  They have empathy with children and people who learn and behave differently and understand the struggle of those who understand, but find it difficult to translate their emotions and feelings into speech.

What is Autism ?

Autism Spectrum Disorders are the name used to describe Kanner Autism, Autism, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD.) Autism Spectrum Disorder also includes Kanner Autism, Low functioning Autism and High Functioning Autism. There is no known single cause for Autism and no-one can with absolute certainty declare or prove what the causes of Autism are.  Most scientists speculate that it is of genetic origin, and just as many speculate that it is caused by external influences or other causes.   

In the mean time, parents struggle alone, separated from the rest of society because their child does not “fit in”. Autism and other Autism Spectrum Disorders place a high amount of stress, emotionally, spiritually and financially on parents.  There are more divorces in families where a child has autism than in the household of any other disabled family.

With Autism a person’s brain function occurs on different levels.  For example, a child can be brilliant in maths, but cannot communicate properly with others or mix with people. Their speech may be unusual: an example being that they use words and phrases incorrectly and repeat the same words or phrases over and over. Many speculate that echolalia, meaning the repetition of frases, is acceptable, others differ in their opinion.

Children and adults living with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders have many sensory problems and these can include:  Distress with sound, sensitivity to light, discomfort with certain textures, smells and taste.   They startle and panic easily and are insecure about heights and movement. Many children on the Autistic Spectrum have problems with eating.  I know of children that only eat food in liquid form because the texture of the food in their mouths hurts them! 

Many people with Classic Autism never speak and do not really understand language especially abstract and slang language.  However, it does not mean that because they do not speak, they have nothing to say!  It means that these children and adults must be taught an alternative method of expressing themselves.

Children and adults living with Asperger Syndrome understand everything that a person says, literally.  If one has to say that something is so funny that one can laugh your head off, they expect to see your head rolling on the floor.  They need to be assisted to understand the meaning and uses of communication.    Even children that do speak often have severe problems understanding the normal process of communication between individuals.

Autistic children do not understand other people’s emotions, reactions or social relationships.  They have to be taught with pictures, explanations, and other methods to understand what is happening. This is a process; to teach a child a specific skill could literally take months. 

They do not understand anything abstract or day to day concepts, and this causes them to be confused and frustrated.  They soon learn to mimic everything they see and hear and start to develop rituals and routines to help them function and to know what is going to happen next. 

They do not instinctively know what is going to happen next and therefore cannot tolerate changes in plans, expectations and routines.   

To be able to function they need structure with hands–on learning. They thrive with vividly illustrated games, books, flashcards, sight reading and computer software.  They learn and memorize visually, they must see to understand. Objects and pictures provide concrete bridges to words.  Some Autistic children have fantastic memories.  They thrive on subjects where knowledge does not change, for example math’s and music, simply because 1+1 will always be two.

They have analytic minds that crave facts and details, methodically and logically presented, making computers patient teachers. People on the Autistic Spectrum usually have specific interests which creates great opportunities for the dedicated teacher and parent to help them reach their full potential in life. 

It is difficult for them to talk and play quietly and they are therefore disruptive in normal school situations.  They can repeat words, phrases and sentences over and over without understanding that others should have the opportunity to answer or speak as well. They can be impatient, not wanting to wait their turn and frequently interrupts others.

They have difficulty with appropriate emotional responses because they do not understand their own emotions or the emotions of other people with which they come into contact. 

Imagination is mostly absent or very limited and toys may be used inappropriately.  A child living with an Autism Spectrum disorder may not be able to imagine that a piece of wood could be a car or a train.  Because imagination is limited, the child will keep on playing with an object in the same manner while resisting help from others and could hold on to a chosen toy the whole day long.

Some children and adults remember everything that they see, but have difficulty in understanding it, describing it and talking about it. Leave a comment on our Blog.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."  Confucius

Wendy's Story

Our son was born perfect.  He only cried when hungry or wet. He looked just like our other 4 boys, and did not have any physical handicap.  As a baby we did not notice anything out of the ordinary and up to 18 months he developed normally.  However, as the months passed, we started to notice differences such as the fact that he was late in talking and preferred his own company. 


When he turned 3, he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I took him to a doctor for a routine check-up because he had become very aggressive and violent.  My husband thought I was unnecessarily worried. He loved the fact that our son was displaying “manly aggression”

My husband is one of 6 brothers, all big, strong men.  They are constantly in competition with each other.  Every brother’s whole family also forms part of this competition.  No weaknesses or mistakes were tolerated. 

When our son was diagnosed, my husband refused to accept him or his condition and immediately rejected our son.  Our son, not wanting to join in the rowdy sports and adventures with our other 3 boys, was quickly given “nick” names. They teased and roughed him up all the time, trying to "make him a man".    To make a long story short, my husband and I are now divorced and I was awarded sole custody of my autistic son.  He has no contact with his other brothers or father because they do not want to be associated with him.

Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorders

Inappropriate and Aggressive behaviour in a child with Asperger's Syndrome occurs for a reason, just as it would with any other child. 

Any child that is forced into doing something, especially if they do not understand what is happening or are afraid, will react in one way or another. The situation can also be aggravated if a child cannot explain his wants, needs or fears properly.

Undesirable social behaviour need to be replaced with acceptable behaviour.  Make sure that you provide the child with an alternative method to communicate what he wants or do not want.  Insisting that the child stops his behaviour and participate in what is going on around him will not benefit the child or you.  Rather remove thechild from the situation first. 

A schedule or routine is very important for children living with Autism. Maintaining their  routine will go a long way towards reducing their need for inappropriate or aggressive behavior in the first place. Creating picture charts will help them to understand what is expected of them.  Charts will help them to know what must happen next.  Take photos of the child during the day.  Use this photo’s to create a chart which describes the child’s day.

A few examples:

A photo of him while he is sleeping to illustrate it is time to go to bed.

A photo of him while he is eating his breakfast to show it is time for breakfast.

A photo of him while he is having a snack.......

A photo of him while he is having lunch............

A photo of him while you are shopping in the shopping center.......

Use these photos to create a photo description of what is going to happen during his day or in the future.Keep in mind that children with autism pay a lot of attention to detail, which in turn causes an overload of information.It is difficult for them to distinguish between what is important now, and what is not.If he is following a routine, knowing what happens from one moment to the next, it is easier to understand what is expected of him.

Do not push your son to hard to perform. Too much noise and distractions around him can be very disturbing.Keep his environment calm and simple.Provide lots of encouragement with honest appreciation and praise when he succeeds.

Use a calendar to remind and prepare him of activities that will happen in future. Prepare him to accept that these activities are not negotiable.

Do not try to change everything at once.  Introduce changes gradually and allow him to make decisions.  Provide two choices and no more. 

Help him to organize his room or workspace by putting up hooks, shelves, etc and label each area. Use picture charts to remind him about his routine and responsibilities.  A good example is a picture chart that shows what needs to be packed when he goes to school. If you use this method, he will never forget assignments, pencils or projects.

Children and adults living with Autism need to function in society with or without their parents.  If you start teaching your child now on what is acceptable to society and what is not, this knowledge will be invaluable to him later.

Parents know their child best.  They live with the child 24/7.  Parents grow with the child. They know how to provide exceptional care, especially in the case of a child with a condition such as Autism or Asperger Syndrome. 

Parents of so called “normal” children fear that when they die no one will care for their children like they did.  Just imagine the fear and stress that parents with children living with Autism experiences every day.  

Sometimes there are no other family members that can, or are willing to care for the child living with Autism.  This means that the future of the child on the Autism Spectrum is always in the minds of their parents. 

For single parents the stress is even worse.  While taking care of a full time job and the special needs of a child, (sometimes an adult child on the Autistic Spectrum), many parents forget to take care of themselves and the other siblings in the family. 

Parents feel guilty, thinking that the child’s condition might be their fault. They worry that they could have somehow prevented the condition.  These feelings of guilt and frustration cause them to throw themselves into the job of finding a cure with such gusto that everything revolves around Autism. The need to help the child overrides everything in the parent’s life which makes it vitally important for parents and caregivers to manage stress levels.   

While searching for this cure, a lot of valuable time is lost.................

Current research shows that the impact of the symptoms of Autism and Asperger Syndrome is dramatically reduced if intervention takes place while the child’s brain is still flexible.Symptoms can improve with early intervention, treatment and with age.  Some children grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives depending on the severity of the symptoms. 

Adding to parental stress are unscrupulous people intent on making money, who sell products that they maintain can “cure” Autism.Autism isn’t the problem. The lack of knowledge is.Autism is hidden in the homes where parents struggle alone and become separated from the rest of society.  Autism is the syndrome that places the highest amount of stress, emotionally, spiritually and financially on parents and caregivers.There are more divorces in families where a child has autism than in the household of any other disabled family.

Support for families with children on the Autistic spectrum is not easily come by as the condition is not well known in South Africa even though it is said that every 20 minutes a child is born with Autism.  Everyone knows about AIDS, few know about Autism.  

Some people have heard about Autism but they do not really know what it means or how the condition is manifested.This makes it even harder for the parents to constantly explain that their child is not naughty and cannot help his reactions. 

Society and even family members pressurize the parents with “advice” since the parents of the child does not seem to know how to discipline or educate the child.This puts further stress on the parents because they start doubting themselves and their abilities to cope.  Parents start feeling that they have failed the child in some way.

There is presently no cure for Autism, this is a fact, however it is treatable.  No-one has conclusively proved or produced concrete evidence about this condition either.All the learned scientists are still speculating about the cause and/or future cure.There are interventions that help alleviate symptoms, but it does not cure Autism or Asperger Syndrome. 

Other siblings in the family may also experience stress because the parents spend so much time and energy on the child who lives with Autism.This can cause siblings to become jealous.They may experience frustration because they feel robbed.They may find it difficult to relate or have a conversation with their brother or sister.

Siblings can become targets for aggressive behavior. They may be concerned that they will have to care for the child living with Autism after the death of the parents.Siblings can also be stressed because they empathise with the stress and grief that they see their parents going through.They might even try to make up for the deficits in the child living with Autism.

It is therefore important for parents and siblings to recharge on a regular basis.No one can take care of anyone if they do not take care of themselves first.  Parents and siblings have to find time and space for themselves so that can let go of pent-up anger and frustration.Get out and relax.Invest in getting organised and try and live as normal a life as possible.If  parents and siblings find no joy in life, how can the child feel happy and safe? 

Another source of stress for parents of children with Autism is that children and adults on the Autism Spectrum may find it difficult to express their basic wants and needs.  Parents constantly have to guess what is wrong, leaving the parent or caregiver feeling inapt and frustrated.

Parents are “forced” to provide constant structure for the child in the home environment where there might be other siblings who must also be taken into consideration. Treatment for Autism is expensive and can seriously test the family budget.  The cost of treatment can necessitate that both parents work.  On top of this, the child with Autism frequently struggles to fall asleep which leaves parents exhausted and physically drained.

Most families find it hard to attend social gatherings due to the child  sensory problems for example.  Many children only eat certain foods or have certain mannerisms which are not socially acceptable. 

Not being able to do things as a family can impact the marital relationship. It is difficult for husband and wife to spend quality time alone with each other due to the lack of trained staff or family that can watch the child.

Another source of stress for parents and caregivers are the reaction of the community when the child livingwith Autism “misbehaves” on an outing.People, not understanding Autism, make unkind comments, stare or laugh when the child acts inappropriately.Many parents stop taking the child out and become isolated from their friends, relatives and the community.

One of my children, who love to help me do shopping, one day insisted on removing groceries from the shelf and repacking the items on the shelf where it normally used to be displayed.

A week later, while we were in the same shop, he heard a man swearing when something hecarried fell.My son walked up to him, pointed his finger at him and told him: “that is not a nice word, don’t say it again”

He has also, on occasion removed food from a trolley, telling the lady that:“mamma says this food is not good, you must eat vegetables”

Changes in the attitude of parents can make a big difference, and there are many ways to work on your own feelings.

We must love our child unconditionally and remember that our child can learn and make progress if we allow him or her space to do so.We should remember that our child did not choose to be on the Autistic Spectrum and that without our support and vote of confidence; their chances of becoming self-reliant and successful are slim. 

We should remember four things: 

We are our children’s advocates.

Social rules do not make sense to our children so we should show more compassion and ignore those who don’t, and

We did not always meet our parent’s standards and expectations but they loved us anyway!

We have to understand that our emotions, frustrations and grief are valid and normal. Children on the Autistic Spectrum are alive and real and deserve parents and communities who will value them for who and what they are.

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Sibling's Story

My name is Yolanda.I am 35 years old and have 2 sons. JD aged 5 and Niclas aged 3.I also have an Autistic brother, Dugan, aged 12 who was born 22 years after me. 

When Dugan was born, I was married and living my own life. Because of the age difference, I never really saw him as my brother but just as my mother’s baby.

I spent some time with him when he was a baby. He was “normal” then and I treated him just like I would any baby.He started walking and playing, carrying chickens around the yard, riding his tricycle, laughed a lot, playing with the hosepipe and squirting water everywhere. 

He was saying some words and in general he was a happy and contented boy.He loved it when I tickled him, hugged and kissed him and chased him around. 

Then suddenly it stopped.He went missing somehow. He hid in a world of his own.Everyone was devastated because we could not find out what had happened to him.My mother stressed all the time, read books, frantically searched for answers.She was sent from one doctor to another, no one could tell her what was wrong with my brother.

Where he previously spoke, he was now quiet, and afraid of everything.He did not want to play or allow me to tickle him anymore.  He refused to eat and we bought and tried all types of food, trying to entice him to eat.Eventually we fed him fish with mayonnaise and water, whenever he was hungry.

My mother went to all the doctors and specialists.She was told that he should be institutionalized.  My mother refused.She read to him for hours while he ignored her, even while she was doing the dishes she would sit him in his chair and  explain to him what she was doing.

Things improved when we found out what was wrong.We now knew what to search for and what we had to do to help Dugan.

My mother prayed for him constantly.We all prayed constantly.If he would just start speaking again, we all lamented, he was nearly 4 years old and still no spoken word!

One morning he woke up and smiled for the first time in many months.Soon after he started saying his first words………….  My mom believed and prayed, and it got better as the days passed.Our motto became: “some response is better than no response”

It was very difficult in the beginning.He had a constant way of shaking his arms or keeping them locked behind his back, while he kept walking in circles.He slapped himself frequently and sat in his rocking chair for hours.I guess if that was all he did it would have been alright, but it wasn’t. 

I think the hardest part of getting used to Dugan was the noises he made when he started talking again.It was very high pitched, always following the same pattern and he kept at it until he fell asleep.He never kept quite.The only way that anyone had peace was when they left the house.  Even closing the door and sitting in another room didn’t help much.  He was loud enough that you could hear him right through the door.

It took a while, but I got used to it.I could actually sit in the next room (door closed off course) and read.My brain started filtering out his noise. 

It all changed when you got in the same room with him again.He kept talking at the top of his voice, mimicking advertisements on TV and mimicking movies that he saw. He repeated everything we said.  You could only stand it for a while before you made excuses and disappeared.  In retrospect, I think it was his way to communicate with me.

Later on, I could actually be in the same room for longer spells without wanting to flee.I think that was the worst of it, the noise.I never minded going into town with him or having other people see me with him.It did cause problems because he looks like any other “normal” child but he doesn’t act “normal”.He is a big boy and people in general expect more of him than what he is capable of. 

I promised myself right from the start that no matter what people said about my brother, it would be their problem, not my problem. Dugan has always been a part of my life and will stay a part of my life. I visit often and see him two, three times a week and I am amazed at the progress that he has made.I am truly proud of my brother.  He has guts.

I miss the affection that we had when he was small.He does not remember his affection for me, but there is something special, a bond between us.He will never kiss me out of his own free will.  I have to always beg him for a kiss and then accept a very fast and forced kiss on the cheek.  But, he does call me Lalla, greets me and even shares his day with me if I ask.

He will climb into my car and go places with me if I invite him, and I think that only means he trusts me.That would also mean that I have been part of his life for long enough that he has accepted me and feels as comfortable with me as he can be. 

Dugan is Dugan and I have often wished for him not to be Autistic, but he is.I do accept him as he is.To me he is just a 12 year old boy with his own likes and dislikes.  He’s stubborn and headstrong, but he can, like any other child, be bribed with sweets or cajoled into a kiss if you promise him something. If my mother died, I would take him with open arms and care for him as though he was one of my sons.

While I have been writing this, I started wondering (and I have never before) how Dugan would be if he was normal?I guess if he suddenly turned “normal” now, it would take a lot of getting use to.

My youngest, Nicolas, is a very busy little boy.He is constantly climbing things, creating havoc in the household and teasing his brother mercilessly.But that’s Nikolas.Change him and he wouldn’t be who he is.When I get into bed at night I think of all the things he’s done today and I wouldn’t change him for the world. 

Dugan can’t change.He is who he is.I only wish him a good life where people can understand him better, acknowledge him for who he is and not see him as something that must be fixed.  My children are at the age where they have imaginary friends, they make up stories and tell things that might be fibs but are the truth to them.I know I must have been the same as a child, but I have lost that as an adult. 

Dugan, I guess, is much like them.He has his own way of thinking and doing things.He lives in his world where everything is the way it should be.Just as we see him as being different, he looks at us and we are alien to him.

I can’t and do not want to change my brother, he is just fine the way he is.He will always need someone to watch over him.He will always be a little anti-social and difficult to understand, but he is Dugan, he is my brother and I love him.

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