Tips and Tricks of Teaching

 By Grace Coleman

After having an involvement in the ACEing Autism program, a group that helps teach autistic children how to play tennis. Since I was 10 or 11, I’ve steadily become better at understanding the best ways to communicate information, and explain tennis demos in a way that is clear enough for participants to be cognizant of. My younger cousin, Jackson, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, and being around him through various formative points of my life has helped my patience and communication skills develop considerably. In an idealistic world, we wish our speaking skills were so over-developed to a point where we would only need to say things once. However, this is not an idealistic world, and frankly our individual differences help shape what makes us interesting to ourselves, and to other people. Yet, we sometimes forget how beautiful these separations are, and we can become frustrated when people don’t immediately process what we tell them.

While most everyone takes in information differently, people on the spectrum tend to have an impaired processing speed, making schools catered to autistic students which is a great benefit to their learning process. So many of us, as volunteers, are able to see this and often be nervous as to our own teaching skills, worrying that we may not be able to share information with participants coherently. However, though years and thousands of hours are not something most of us have, we instead have an equally, if not even larger benefit; our age.

Though things separate us mentally,  we understand much of the way that moments can feel when certain things happen: frustration when we miss a shot, pride when we make one, and happiness when we notice people being proud of us. My goal in this article is too impart on you a few tips in order to help you improve your teaching ability in order to bring out some of these more positive emotions. As a reminder, what works for me isn’t going to always work for you, so all I can do is tell you what I’ve learned. 

  1. Persistence
    Persistence can be difficult at times, especially when it comes to repeating words, sentences or information. Sometimes when speaking to our friends or family, we may feel as if no one is listening to us or that they deem our words as invaluable. It’s a difficult feeling to overcome but a necessary one, especially when having a conversation with someone on the spectrum. It’s important to remember that they are not consciously ignoring your words, rather having difficulty understanding. When you see your student seem to lose focus, or notice their eyes begin wandering, it’s key to immediately bring their focus back in a gentle way. Perhaps tap their shoulder or repeat their name a few times until they refocus, and continue to enunciate your words. You may have to repeat sentences a few times, not because they didn’t hear you, but simply because they haven’t had time to process.
  2. Patience
    Patience is an essential part of working with anyone, especially autistic students as it may take them longer than the average individual. Give them time on their shots and be sure to repeat tips before and after every ball. Remember to vocalize praise and stay positive when they miss, as consistent help is so important. Continue to watch them and make sure they stay focused. You’re certainly on your way to successful teaching! 

In the end, progress can always be slow. As you are expressing positivity verbally, direct contact and clear body language, also make sure you are also being kind. It makes me feel incredibly happy to be able to contribute to the community, even if in a small amount. Remember that these kids are just like you. Treat them the same way you would your friends, just with extra attention and tolerance. Most importantly, enjoy making new friends and have fun doing what you love!