Dr. Jennifer Woods: Educating those with Autism

Editors

Dr. Jennifer Woods is the Associate Professor of Special Education at Southern Wesleyan University. She received her Ph.D through Clemson University in the area of Curriculum and Instruction, with a concentration in Special Education. She also received her Master’s degree of Arts in Administration at Furman University. Dr. Woods has an impressive amount of public experience. She has worked with students K-12 and served as an building- and district-level administrator. Her areas of specialty includes early childhood, special education, high-incidence disabilities, and special education law/ policy. As a child, she pretended that her stuffed animals were students. Dr. Woods has a passion for teaching and enjoys working with students. 

In our Professional Writing class, we had the chance to hear Dr. Woods speak about educating those with autism. She focused on three main topics, communication, social interaction, and repetitive behavior. Her talk began with the quote, “Children with autism not rustic children.” No one wants to be seen as a label. Children with autism or any other disability should be seen as a person. She made this statement very clear before continuing her talk.

The definition of autism is “a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.” After discussing how we should respect those with the disabilities, she played a video of a child who had been diagnosed with autism at a young age. He enjoyed stacking things and lining up his toys smallest to largest. Doctors had informed his parents that he had autism at the age of 3. Children with autism often have the same behaviors. Some of those behaviors include repeatable patterns, memorization, and following rules and schedules. They also work better in a controlled environment. Recognizing the early signs of autism can make a difference in a child’s life. Receiving the proper treatment can a allow the child to thrive both in and outside the classroom. 

Aspergers Syndrome is “a developmental disorder affecting ability to effectively socialize and communicate.” This condition is on the spectrum of autism, and relates to those that can function on a higher level. Aspergers can be referred to as the big “umbrella” term of autism. An example Dr. Wood’s used referred to a show called Parenthood. On the show, there is a young boy who has the Aspergers Syndrome. He is seen following the exact rules in class. However, some of his actions don’t follow social “norms.” The teacher would ask him a question and he would give her the answer before being called on. He even told the teacher about a girl writing in her textbook in the middle of class. Some of his actions could be considered disruptive. However, he’s just doing what’s asked of him. It is important to understand this condition. Those with Aspergers tend to have a high IQ level. Also it is five times more prevalent in guys than girls. According to the CDC, 1-59 children are diagnosed with autism. The causes of autism are still unclear. However, some studies suggests chemical exposures and toxins have negatives effect on the brain during pregnancy. 

Different types of treatment can help those with autism. Visual schedules, socials stories, and self-contained classes are known to reduce their symptoms. A visual schedule reminds them to focus on the tasks at hand without meltdowns. It allows their transition to be a lot smoother. Visual schedules are mostly used for autistic children, rather than adults. Some of their schedules are listed by color, pictures, and times. Another helpful tool is a social story, which is book generally used for a special day or tradition. It reminds them of why and how their family celebrates a certain day. They can also be used for a simple task, such as getting ready for school in the morning. It gives them step by step directions along with pictures.

According to Dr. Woods, active engagement, intensive instructional programs, repeated teaching, family instruction, and low student/ teacher ratios plays a huge part in treating those with autism. Those with autism deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Knowing more about the condition can help the interaction we have with one another.