Best Autism Teaching Strategies for Teachers and Parents

autism teaching strategies

Children with autism need special considerations in their education and learning. When considering the best autism teaching strategies for your students or your child, there are many to choose from. Since each child is an individual with unique needs, choose the teaching strategy that is applicable to your student or child. You may need to try a few of these teaching strategies for autism before you find what works best. Here are some autism strategies for you to explore.

Special Interests Integration

All children find learning more enjoyable when it takes into account their interests. Children with autism often have very specific preferences, and it is important to adapt educational experiences to their strengths. This leads to increased engagement and understanding.

If a child enjoys a particular movie or television show, use it to teach age appropriate social skills. Use beloved books to target reading comprehension and wh-questions. A child who loves trains can practice formulating sentences by connecting train cars containing individual words to create one long train. Tape written or typed words to the cars of a train and mix up the train cars. Then have your child put them in order to formulate a sentence and create a train.

Stick to Structured Routine and Order

Children with autism thrive under order and routine. This kind of structure makes them feel safe and comfortable. It shows children what to expect and leaves little room for confusion.

One of the best autism strategies for teachers and parents is to incorporate a daily schedule in your home or classroom. You can also break specific tasks into small manageable steps that children can complete one at a time. Going through a schedule can be particularly helpful before an upcoming new event or activity. It makes the experience less stressful and scary.

Use Visual Supports

Individuals with autism may struggle with some forms of spoken communication, but they often do well with pictures. Visual cues assist children in following directions, completing tasks, and making choices.

Visual supports can be incorporated into the classroom in a variety of ways. Use symbols or pictures to represent events on a daily schedule. Offer choices by using pictures of desired items so the student can choose the item they want by pointing. When giving directions, point to visual prompts so they understand what they are being asked to do.

Use Sensory Tools

Children with autism often have sensory needs that can impact their ability to focus on learning. Sensory tools are items that help children calm down, relax, and focus. These products may target small motor, gross motor, auditory, oral motor, visual, or smell/olfactory senses. Sensory tools may include stress balls, play doh or putty, sensory bins, bubble wrap, trampolines, swings, noise-canceling headphones, etc.

Offer sensory toys at regular intervals throughout the day. This helps to avoid overstimulation or understimulation, which can impede learning and lead to negative behaviors. These behaviors are often not recognized as sensory needs, making sensory tools one of the key autism strategies for teaching. Allow children to sit on fidget seats that allow them to move and remain active while seated. If certain noises such as the school bell and school assemblies are too loud, offer noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. Let students keep stress balls or putty at their desks to keep their hands occupied during a lesson.

Practice Social Skills 

Most neurotypical children develop social skills naturally through observation and experience. However, many individuals with autism struggle with social skills and require explicit teaching and practice. As children grow up, they need to know how to participate in conversation, interpret nonverbal language such as facial expressions and gestures, and understand nonliteral language including sarcasm, idioms, and metaphors.

Encourage social interaction and cooperation with peers to improve social skills and build positive relationships. Model how to engage in conversation and the steps involved: greetings, responding, listening, asking and answering questions, making comments, farewells. Offer opportunities for students to practice participating in conversation with peers on preferred and non-preferred topics. Use real photographs of facial expressions to practice interpreting emotions of others. Have students determine whether the pictured faces are happy, sad, scared, surprised, tired, bored, etc. Additionally, you can utilize communication tools for autism.

Task Simplification

Individuals with autism are concrete thinkers, and often get overwhelmed with large tasks or multi-step directions. Providing too many steps at once may confuse your students, making it hard for them to follow instructions. Break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to promote successful completion.

When giving directions containing multiple steps, give instructions one step at a time. For example, telling your students to get ready to go home at the end of the school day is too abstract. Instead, give them milestones to complete: “First, get your folder and notebook out. Put them in your backpack. Then put on your jacket.”

Modeling and Imitation

For many areas of development such as social skills, children with autism learn by example. Many skills do not come naturally or intuitively to individuals with autism. They require direct and explicit teaching. Demonstrate appropriate skills or behaviors. Then encourage the children to imitate what you do or say.

Model how to complete specific tasks, such as requesting help, asking a peer to play, or participating in turn-taking activities. Do this multiple times before expecting the child to repeat the behavior. After multiple opportunities to observe, provide opportunities for them to imitate the desired skill throughout the day. Make sure to do this consistently so they have repeated opportunities to practice. 

Play-Based Learning

Instead of direct instruction and a lecture-style approach of teaching, implement play-based learning when possible. Most children, including students with autism, learn best in a natural setting. What is more natural than play? Play-based learning fosters imagination, creativity, and promotes increased social interaction. Multiple academic areas can be targeted with one play activity. For example, pretending to go grocery shopping targets mathematics, literacy, health, problem solving, perspective taking, and social skills.

Play-based approaches can include the following: 

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play targets many social skills and life skills, such as money knowledge, following a recipe, reading a menu, etc. Role-play daily scenarios such as ordering at a restaurant, going grocery shopping, cooking, visiting the doctor, etc. Set up centers in your classroom that rotate themes throughout the year. Don’t forget the dress-up clothes!

Play with Toys

Playing with blocks, toy food, dolls, or play doh targets many skill areas and allows children to be creative. By using their imagination, children can turn blocks into airplanes or animals. 

Sensory Tables

Provide a variety of sensory materials for children to touch and assemble. Set out shaving cream, sandpaper, uncooked noodles, water, cotton balls, bubble wrap, and any other items you can think of that have unique textures for children to feel and explore. 

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

Children with autism can receive needed special education services when they have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This is one of the instructional strategies for students with autism that is used in the public school setting. With an IEP, students are evaluated in a variety of areas in order to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses. Results are shared with the team, and a plan is made to help the student succeed. The IEP team includes the child’s parents or guardians, the child’s teacher(s), a school administrator such as the director of special education, and any other relevant professionals (school psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, school counselor). 

The IEP will specify the types of service(s) the child needs during the school day in order to successfully participate in the academic environment, as well as the duration and frequency of each service area. Any accommodations that need to be made are also included in the IEP. Goals are written for each area, and progress toward each goal is shared throughout the year by the professional targeting and taking data in that area.

Collaborate with other teachers and school professionals to create IEPs tailored to each child’s specific needs. Be sure to include parent input since they are an important part of the IEP team! Collaboration should always be one of the most important teaching strategies for students with autism spectrum disorder.

Give Rewards 

When working with students with autism, extrinsic motivators such as rewards can help increase compliance and improve positive behaviors. Incentives work as reinforcers since earning a desired item reinforces the desired behavior and increases the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. This is one of the most effective strategies for students with autism.

The system for earning rewards needs to be clear so that students know what tasks they must complete or what behaviors they need to exhibit to earn the reward. Sticker charts are a great way to incorporate rewards in a clear way. These allow students to work toward a desired reward, and provide a visual for how many stickers or stars the student needs to get to earn the reward. 

These are the necessary components of a sticker chart:

  • The desired behavior or task.
  • A motivating reward, chosen ahead of time.
  • The number of stickers needed to earn the reward.

In order for the reward to be motivating, let the student choose their prize. Offer choices in the form of pictures. Students can place a picture of the reward they are working for on their sticker chart as a visual reminder to help them stay motivated.

How to Choose the Right Teaching Strategy for My Child with Autism? 

As you can see, there are multiple strategies for teaching students with autism. How do you know which one will work for your child? Keep in mind that what works for one child may not work for another child with autism, so do not compare different children. Here are some criteria to consider when choosing an appropriate strategy for your child:

  • Consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do they do well with visual choices? Do they have difficulty with social interactions? Build on their strengths in order to target their weaknesses. 
  • Take inventory of your child’s interests. These can be incorporated into just about any teaching strategy.
  • Consult with professionals. Ask clinicians and teachers who work with your child for their input and any autism teaching methods that have proven successful.
  • Try out one or two autism teaching strategies at a time to see what works. Evaluate how each approach is going by monitoring the progress. Give it time, but if you see that your first strategy is not effective, try another one!

Using Forbrain to Improve Teaching Process for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Forbrain is a tool that can be added to your list of teaching strategies for students with autism. It is an auditory feedback device that allows individuals to hear themselves louder and more clearly. This can reduce background distractions and help children with autism to focus better, which supports their ability to learn. When they are more focused, children retain information and exhibit improved memory. Students are able to regulate their energy and mood. Children can wear Forbrain during their speech therapy sessions. Their improvement in focus and attention can then carry over to speech therapy sessions and classroom activities when Forbrain is not worn. 

Final Words

Individuals with autism have unique strengths and weaknesses that impact their ability to learn. When individualized strategies to teach autistic students are used, these students can achieve academic success. Feel free to try several of the strategies listed above. Most children with autism will benefit from the implementation of more than one of these autism teaching strategies. 


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (Accessed 2023, August 22). Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), and Section 504 Plans. ASHA. 

Arrow, J. (2019, April 11). How to Use Play for Learning. Edutopia. 

Autism Speaks. (Accessed 2023, August 22). Visual Supports and Autism. Autism Speaks. 

Borst, H. (2021, December 10). The Importance of Learning Through Play. U.S. News. 

Przeworkski, A. (2014, August 11). The Dos and Don’ts of the Sticker Chart. Psychology Today. 

Amanda Unrau

Amanda is a speech language pathologist by day, and a freelance writer during the in between times. She has worked with children of all ages in a variety of private practice and school settings, as well as telepractice. She enjoys research and tries to make her speech therapy and writing as functional as possible.