Teaching Self-Management Skills to Students with Autism

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Becoming more independent is critical for all students, but it's particularly difficult for those with autism. This lesson will explore some of the benefits and suggestions for teaching self-management skills to students on the autism spectrum.

Meet Jeremy

Jeremy is a sixth grade student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He attends some regular education classes with his peers and some classes in a special education classroom. Members of his Individualized Education Program team have noticed that he has learned to rely heavily on his teachers to function at school. He rarely starts and finishes assignments on his own, he does not keep track of his own school materials, and he requires additional prompts, reminders, rewards, and consequences to comply with teacher requests. He is becoming more disruptive in class but doesn't feel he needs to obey the rules unless he is punished or rewarded appropriately.

While support is critical, Jeremy's reliance on teacher involvement in every detail of his day is concerning. His parents and teachers realize that he needs to start having more responsibility now, so that he can learn to become as independent as possible as he grows into adulthood. They decide to research different strategies for teaching self-management to help Jeremy feel more empowered at school.

Self-Management and Autism

Self-management is the awareness of one's own behavior and the ability to control it. For some people, it may include maintaining positive behaviors or changing behaviors that need to be improved. Like most adolescents, a lot of children with ASD develop the desire for independence. Unfortunately, students with ASD have a particularly difficult time learning self-management strategies for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include:

  • Lack of self-awareness
  • Inability to pick up on social cues
  • Lack of intrinsic motivation

Students with these characteristics, like Jeremy, often need specific strategies put in place to help them learn how to regulate their own behavior. Self-management is something that can be taught, and many students with ASD have become more independent through explicit self-management instruction.

Benefits of Self-Management Skills

There are many benefits to teaching students with ASD to manage their own behavior. Some of these benefits include the following:

  • Better performance in school
  • Higher motivation and self-confidence
  • More independence during adulthood
  • Skills can be easily generalized to different settings

Strategies for Teaching Self-Management

Students with ASD are unique, and each has their own set of abilities and challenges. The suggestions covered in this section are presented with the example of Jeremy in mind, but they may not work for every student. And while all of these strategies are important to cover, it may not be possible to implement all of them at once. It's up to the teacher to determine how to adapt these ideas to your specific students and classrooms.

Setting Rules

Jeremy's teachers need to make sure that the rules for his behavior are clear and simple. Rather than explaining the rules in a long, detailed format, Jeremy's expectations will be short and direct. His rules will include:

  • Follow directions
  • Finish and turn in your work
  • Quiet mouth

This simplifies his teacher's expectations and makes it possible for Jeremy to keep track of his own behavior.

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