Educational psychologists focus on various groups of people including populations with learning challenges such as autism. Autism refers to a life-long developmental disability that inhibits individuals from understanding what they see and hear, hence resulting in severe difficulties in behavior, communication, and social relationships (Denning & Moody, 2013). Children with low functioning autism are typically not verbal. In case they speak, their speech consists of echolalia, and thus have a hard time in expressing themselves and can act out if upset, frustrated, or in pain (Duquette, Michaud & Mercier, 2008). They have a memory that is below average although they may have savant skills. Children with low functioning autism have an IQ of less than 80 (Duquette, Michaud & Mercier, 2008).
The prevalence of autism is on the rise, and its estimate is about 1 in every 88 children (CDC, 2012). The increased rates of autism place higher demands on the teachers in addressing the needs of the children with autism (Denning & Moody, 2013). The unique needs of the students with autism affect their school success in an inclusive setting in various ways. Children with autism have difficulties engaging in the classroom because their attention may shift and therefore cannot attend to meaningful information in the classroom (Keen, 2009). Children with autism have challenges in completing as well as submitting class assignments (Koegel, Singh, & Koegel, 2010). To meet the needs of children with autism, the educators require additional information on the way to address the specific curricula and instructional needs of the students with autism in inclusive settings (USDOE, 2010)
Despite the growing number of pupils with autism joining the mainstream school, the manner of smoothing their learning and involvement remains a complex issue and poorly understood in education. The theories that inform this paper are behavioral models, cognitive approaches, and constructivist models (Chauhan, 2009). The behavioral models focus on the observable outcomes of the learning process. The primary principles of the reinforcement theory predominantly influence learning. According to behaviorists, all behavior is a result of learning according to the rules that shape, alter, or sustain it. Education employs behavioral techniques to promote desirable behavior and discourage behavior that is undesirable. Teachers apply the behavioral concepts of behavior modification, reinforcements, contrasts, consequences, and extinction in the classroom. Application of the behavioral theory in class is rewarding for both the students and instructors because it brings a positive behavior change because students avoid unpleasant behaviors (Dawson, Mottron & Gernsbacher, 2008). When teachers reward pleasant behaviors, the behaviors occur again and again, unlike unrewarded behaviors that become extinguished. When dealing with low-functioning autistic students, special education teachers employ behavior modification plans that bring success to the students. Besides behavior modification, behavioral theories manage the delivery of instruction.
The cognitive theory of learning explains that students learn through classroom interactions, dialogues, and collaboration of the learned knowledge with the prior knowledge and experience (Frith, 2008). Through learning, the students develop conceptual frameworks other than memorizing facts. Cognitive theories attempt to explain the core features of autism regarding underlying cognitive deficits. The cognitive theorists also argue that learning depends on the learning abilities of a child at a particular stage in life.
The constructivist models assert that children are active participants in the learning process, making sense of experiences, as well as acquiring intrinsic satisfaction through learning and problem-solving (Gopnik & Wellman, 2012). The constructivist theory emphasizes how students think and construct meanings of ideas independent of their educators, along with the changes in their thinking. Constructivist learning is a transformative encounter that opens up the children’s opportunities for additional education as they gain a greater depth of insight and increasingly flexible means of representing one’s knowledge and handling new information. When pupils encounter a new thing, they relate it to their prior experiences and ideas, hence may alter what they know or discard the new concept as irrelevant.
Recommended Curriculum Adjustments and Behavioral Theories
There is a unique curriculum for children with low functioning autism. Although the connection to educational considerations the curricula approaches employed for learners with autism in schools are still not satisfactory (Busby, Ingram, Bowron, Oliver & Lyons, 2012). For several schools, there is a differentiation of the curriculum by individual needs (Charman, Pellicano, Peacey, Peacey, Forward & Dockrell, 2011). Individual education plans, learner-based curricula, and teaching of functional skills among others are some of the curricula offered for pupils with low functioning autism with much of it focusing on triad and sensory differences areas. Although there are chances to develop the learner’s abilities in the aspects linked to autism differences are evident in various experiences and activities, and it is essential for schools to plan the opportunities in ways that adequately address the needs of pupils with autism. Therefore, there is a need to make adjustments in the curricula that teachers teach in a class with children with autism.
The two adjustments I can recommend are modifying the curriculum outcomes to meet the individual learning needs of each pupil and to ensure the simplicity of the content taught in a classroom with children with autism. When modifying the results, the pupils can plan to color a drawing may be, making their decisions into how they want it to appear at the end. The teacher may then make adjustments and allow the other pupils to be part of the coloring by exploring and answering questions about the activity. The goal of the program planning team should be to develop outcomes that the pupils themselves value and because they think they are less challenging to achieve (Koegel, Singh & Koegel, 2010).
When it comes to simplifying the content for teaching children with low functioning autism, the educators must ensure that the content is clear and easily understood. Unreasonably complex and distracting material lowers the possibility of learning in children with autism (Denning & Moody, 2013). Since the pupils have difficulty understanding complex and abstract language, simplicity means that the educators focus on the key components and highlight them so that the pupils can easily identify them. Let the materials be in a language that is clear and concise.
Why the Recommended Curriculums Adjustments Will Be Effective?
When the educators adjust the curricula to be simple and outcomes that meet the specific needs of every pupil, the pupil feels motivated in the learning process. The simplicity of curricula allows enough time for the teachers to conduct in-depth reading, talking, and writing. The learners will get meaning from what the educators teach, and this persuades them to seek more knowledge. The behavioral models focus on the observable outcomes of learning and that all behavior is a result of learning and it is the antecedents and consequences that influence it (Chauhan, 2009). When they achieve the desired outcome, it acts as a reinforcement, and they will always work to produce the same again and again. When a student has in mind how they want the drawing to finally appear these are the consequences they want and when the curricula adjustments support the outcomes they want they will learn quickly. When the material is simple, it means that the attention of the pupils will be better which permits learning because the complex material is never understood and disrupts the response to the stimuli.
The constructivist model views that learning is how the student thinks about the ideas, and how they express their understanding. When the pupil, for example, has an idea of how they want their end drawing to appear after coloring that is their way of thinking. The constructivists subjectively assess the work of the pupil as independent of the teacher after teaching, and they see the process of gaining knowledge as important as the knowledge itself. The simplicity of curricula enables the teachers to deliver the material in a better way so that the students can independently make meanings (Gopnik & Wellman, 2012). Therefore, when the educators adjust the outcomes to fit those of the individual pupils and simplify the content, they encourage and accept learners’ autonomy and initiative, and this promotes learning. When the curricula content is simple, the pupils grasp it quickly, and when the teachers give them time to express their thinking it comes out clearly that learning occurred.
The cognitive theory views learning as the development of conceptual frameworks unlike memorization of facts (Denning & Moody, 2013). When the learning outcomes are what the student expects and the curriculum simple, the pupils easily express their level of understanding because they can discriminate various concepts and apply their prior knowledge to show how similar or different outcomes they want, for example in the case of coloring the drawing.
Suggested Curriculum Adjustments and Learner Diversity
Teachers in the autism class have a challenge in addressing the individual and group interests in a large group. To address learner diversity, the teachers can use the individual expected outcomes of every pupil and come up with a holistic outcome (U. S. Department of Education, 2010). The behavioral theory which focuses on desirable consequences of learning supports this adjustment because every person has a unique outcome that they expect. When the content is simple, the behaviorists believe that every pupil will understand it better bearing in mind that children with autism have a lower response to stimuli and thus will be able to focus attention on simple stimuli (Koegel, Singh & Koegel, 2010).
The cognitive theorists believe that each child has a unique cognitive style that reflects their thinking mode, the methods, and habits one adopts when receiving, interpreting, organizing as well as remembering information (Schopler & Mesibov, 2013). When educators work to meet the individual outcomes of the pupils, they enhance their learning because they represent their cognitive style. Again, simple curricula content means that it is within the pupil’s mental processing ability, and hence learning will take place. The constructivist theory emphasizes how every pupil thinks and when given an opportunity for them to arrive at their desired outcome addresses the needs of each one of them (Gopnik & Wellman, 2012). Simple content ensures that every pupil thinks, understands, reasons, and applies knowledge appropriately because children construct their knowledge rather than replicate someone else’s.
Instructional Strategies and Behavioral Theories
Effective instructional strategies help children with low functioning autism achieve success (Webber & Scheuermann, 2008). Experienced special education teachers play a significant role in learning for children with autism because they will learn their behavioral, cognitive, and constructive thought patterns. The instructional strategies that most schools adopt are differentiated instruction, visual supports, structured learning environments, assistive technology, sensory considerations, and applied behavior analysis (Odom, Collet-Klingenberg, Rogers & Hatton, 2010).
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