I’ve come to understand that autism is not a disability in the strictest sense of the word, but rather a different kind of ability. As such, traditional approaches to teaching must give way to more creative, more focused, more knowing approaches. And in doing so, we can help individuals on the spectrum integrate into community life and live independently.
Peter Gerhardt Ed.D. and the Autism Consortium have some great steps for teaching and building skills.
- IF YOU CAN TEACH THE SKILL, TEACH IT. If you can teach a teen to buy something at a store using money, teach her to do it.
- IF YOU CAN’T TEACH THE SKILL, ADAPT IT. If the teen can’t count change–but can use a debit card–have her use the debit card.
- IF YOU CAN’T ADAPT THE SKILL, CAN YOU FIND A WAY AROUND IT? If the teen cannot use a debit card, can she use a gift card or pre-paid card at a specific store?
- IF YOU CAN’T FIND A WAY AROUND IT, TEACH THE ‘TYPICAL’ WORLD HOW TO DEAL WITH IT. If Steps 1-3 aren’t possible, visit the store and introduce yourself to management and staff. Better yet, use a store you shop at often. Explain that you’re working on your teen’s skills–maybe even explain your child’s struggles/diagnosis. With this valuable input, along with some suggestions for supportive prompts, they can help the process. For example, they could prompt your teen, “Suzi, you need to take your change. Thanks!” This type of exchange allows the teen to have an interaction with the cashier, while teaching her how to buy things from a store.