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College Options for Students with ASD


This article was contributed by Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, an autism mom, and a former teacher.

This is the time of year when many high school students and their families are thinking about the next steps in their lives – touring colleges, taking the SAT or ACT, and starting college applications. It can be anxiety-inducing as well as exciting. For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there may be some special considerations. We will go over these, as well as potential supports and resources.


Is your child ready to live independently?

If you are contemplating sending your teen off to college, the Guardianship Capacity Questionnaire is useful to assess readiness for the independence that adulthood brings. The form, which you can find at www.nccourts.org/forms/Documents/846.pdf, asks questions about the person’s ability to independently use language and communicate, take care of their nutritional needs, maintain good hygiene and health, stay safe, live by themselves or in a group, seek and maintain employment, handle finances, and self-advocate. Completing the form will help you know what to work on this year with your teen.


College in a traditional program

Once someone graduates from high school with a diploma or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma, they can continue on to college, if that is a reasonable choice for them and they have the grades to support college admission. College students with ASD can still receive academic supports if they meet the following conditions:

  1. They have a current medical diagnosis of autism.
  2. They contact the Office of Student Disability at their college or university to share that they have a disability.

Education in the public school system must be free and appropriate. According to the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, colleges and universities are not required to provide FAPE, free and appropriate public education; however, they must provide appropriate academic adjustments to avoid discrimination against a student on the basis of their disability. Also, if a college or university provides housing to nondisabled students, the same or comparable housing must be accessible to those with disabilities at a location that is convenient and with the same cost.

Although the education is no longer free, a college or university cannot charge extra for providing academic adjustments or for participation in its programs or activities. Once the office of student disability has been notified and given the appropriate information, staff members can work with the student to determine the necessary academic adjustments. Just as with an IEP, the adjustments will be individualized to the student’s needs. In the college setting, academic adjustments include: “auxiliary aids and services, as well as modifications to academic requirements as necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. Examples of adjustments are: arranging for priority registration; reducing a course load; substituting one course for another, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended time for testing, and, if telephones are provided in dorm rooms, a TTY in your dorm room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware.”

Also, the Office for Civil Rights states that “In providing an academic adjustment, your postsecondary school is not required to lower or substantially modify essential requirements. For example, although your school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. In addition, your postsecondary school does not have to make adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in an undue financial or administrative burden. Finally, your postsecondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.”

To learn more about students’ rights, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.


College Through a Comprehensive Transition Program

Students who are graduating with a Certificate of Attendance or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma may be appropriate candidates for one of the Comprehensive Transition Programs. The “Think College” website, www.thinkcollege.net, lists  a variety of two -and four-year programs that are housed in universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools across the state.

They offer a variety choices for students, including on-campus, fully inclusive housing with the ability to take regular classes as an audit, partial inclusion in various settings, or living/working within a self-contained group. In some of the programs, the students will receive a certificate for course completion, but a few allow students to work toward a degree.

Because of the success of Comprehensive Transition Programs, many community colleges are strengthening their compensatory education programs to include supports for students on the autism spectrum. Compensatory education classes are inexpensive and sometimes free. If moving away from home is not yet an option, it would be wise to research community college options near your home to see whether they could provide reasonable supports. Many students enroll at the community college level to gain skills they will need for higher level classes and also to get basic requirements out of the way for their major at a university level.


Applying for Scholarships and Grants

Although there are no autism-specific scholarships available for North Carolina residents at this time, students with autism are free to compete for scholarships. Be sure to check several sources, such as your school guidance counselor, local organizations, parents’ employers, and the state. Many colleges and universities also offer scholarships.

Given the academic struggles that often accompany autism, many students do not have the grade-point average or the community involvement to be considered for scholarships. In cases like this, they can apply for federal and state grants. Before students can apply for these funds, they must fill out a FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid at https://fafsa.ed.gov/.

To learn more about financial aid, go to www.collegescholarships.org/grants/disabilities.htm. When looking into a Comprehensive Transition Program, be especially careful because some programs do accept Pell Grants, but not federal student loans.

If a young adult has Innovations waiver funds, at least one NC program can use the funds toward education. Beyond Academics, a CTP Program at UNCG, is a state-accredited service provider and can work with any Managed Care Organization (MCO) in the state. Although Innovations funds cannot be used for class tuition and books, they can be used for supplemental support as required in their Individual Support Plan, which has been approved by their MCO.


Learn more

Upcoming workshops

  • Preparing for College Starts at Home: Webinar online on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Register now
  • Considering College? Prepare, Plan, Succeed!: Workshop in Raleigh on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Register now

Contact an Autism Resource Specialist near you.

Find books on autism and college, employment, and transitions in the ASNC Bookstore. Two we especially like are Life After High School and Smile & Succeed for Teens.


Nancy Nestor can be reached at nnestor@autismsociety-nc.org or 704-894-9678.

Make This Your Child’s Best School Year Yet

school desk

Are you ready for back-to-school time? Or does the mere thought of a new school year make you anxious? The Autism Society of North Carolina is ready to partner with you and your child for a successful school year.

Please take advantage of the resources we offer.

IEP-Toolkit-webToolkits: In the past year and a half, we have introduced easy-to-use, accessible toolkits to guide you through challenging times. Several are on school-related topics: The IEP, Behavior & the IEP, and Bullying. All of these free toolkits can be read online or downloaded and printed: http://bit.ly/ASNCtoolkits

Autism Resource Specialists: We have 19 Autism Resource Specialists across the state, standing by to consult with you. They are all parents of children or adults with autism themselves, so they have firsthand knowledge and a unique understanding of what you’re going through. They strive to empower families to be the best advocates for their children. Find the Autism Resource Specialist serving your area: http://bit.ly/AutismResourceSpecialists

Podcasts: We have recently added podcasts to our list of resources, and one of the first discussions we recorded was “Back to School: What You Need to Know and Do for a Successful Start!” with some of the Autism Resource Specialists. You can check out the complete list of available podcasts here: http://www.autismsociety-nc.org/podcasts

Workshops: Our Autism Resource Specialists also share their expertise through workshops, both in-person and online. Some upcoming titles are Autism: Building on Strengths to Overcome Challenges, Preparing for College Starts at Home, and The IEP Process: Building Success for Your Child at School. Find the complete schedule here: http://bit.ly/ASNCWorkshopCalendar

bookstore couponASNC Bookstore: If you are looking for books and videos, our bookstore is the place to go. The ASNC Bookstore is the most convenient place to find the very best autism resources, with over 600 titles. Bookstore staff members are always willing to share recommendations on particular topics. And until Aug. 31, we have a 15% off sale with code BTSS2015. Browse online: www.autismbookstore.com

Chapters & Support Groups: ASNC has more than 50 Chapters and Support Groups around the state. Chapters provide a place where you can receive encouragement from families facing similar challenges and share experiences, information, and resources. Look for one near you: http://bit.ly/ASNCChapters

Our blog: Of course, you already know about our blog because you are reading it right now. But have you subscribed? You don’t want to miss the educational posts from our Autism Resource Specialists or Clinical staff. The recent post, “Preparing for a New School Year: Calm Parent = Calm Child,” gives you a checklist of helpful tips. Read it here.

Stay connected: Last but not least, connect with us! Sign up to receive our monthly email newsletters and the twice-yearly Spectrum magazine at http://bit.ly/ASNCStayInformed. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We are constantly sharing helpful information, and we don’t want you to miss any of it.

Still have questions? Please contact us so that we can help you find the help you need:


800-442-2762 (NC only)


Autism Society of North Carolina

505 Oberlin Road, Suite 230

Raleigh, NC 27605

Preparing for a New School Year: Calm Parent = Calm Child

school girl 12670314Small

This article was contributed by Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, an autism mom, and a former teacher.

With all the hot weather we have had this summer, it is hard to believe, but summer is fading. Before you know it, yellow school buses will fill the streets, packed with students excited to start another year. The change in schedule can be hard for families; transitioning is not usually a strength for people on the spectrum.

Recently I created a chapter presentation on preparing for the new school year, and I wanted to highlight here some of the information others have presented, as well as add a few tips that I found while researching. With a few changes to your life at home, you and your child will be ready for school this year. If you are calm, your child will have an easier time with the transition, too.

Start preparing now

Preparation is key, and now is the time to start. Along with getting new clothes, backpacks, and lunchboxes, fill prescriptions and check your stock of special-diet foods, if that is something your family needs. To find a school menu listing allergens, go to the child nutrition department section of your school system’s website. This will help you figure out which days your child can eat at school and which days you must send lunch.

One of the biggest challenges is the shift back to the school year schedule, but getting up early does not have to be traumatic. It just takes some time. For example, you can begin turning back wake-up times and bedtimes by 15 minutes every four days. A small, slow change will make the whole transition to school time easier.

Work on “waiting skills”

Back-to-school shopping offers plenty of time for our children to wait. This is not always easy, but it is good to practice. Waiting is a skill that is very important in life, such as when your child has to wait before school. Many of our kids use electronic devices to fill waiting time. If your child’s diversion tool is not working as well as it used to, then it may be time to find something new. Whatever you choose, it would be good to use it only when you need your child to wait; otherwise, the attractiveness of the device can wear off sooner.

Practice new skills needed for middle or high school

For students entering middle or high school, a locker and its lock may be part of their day. If your child is not proficient at using a lock or is anxious about it, then now is the time to purchase one and work on it until your child becomes competent and comfortable. Nowadays, there are lots of options for combination locks, and some are much easier to use than others. Of course, the use of a lock and key is very easy, too. Most schools don’t care which kind you get.

Make sure your child is comfortable with sensory tools

Along with washing new school clothes to get rid of the stiffness, you should make sure your child has become comfortable with any new devices you bought to help them cope with sensory issues. Some schools are finicky about comfort items sent from home to ease transitions, but rarely do they discourage items such as noise-blocking headphones and chewy devices, especially when students are in a self-contained class.

Use a morning schedule

Children who are used to following a schedule daily have an easier time learning a new schedule for school. If you put away your “Getting Ready for School” schedule for the summer, it is time to get it out. If you never made one, it is time to do that. For a nonverbal child, visual schedules are a great way to communicate expectation, increase independence, and reduce anxiety. For verbal children, societal expectations are much higher, and schedules can also help them in those areas. Most children learn through play, and play helps decrease anxiety, so make your use of the schedule fun and reinforce proper use with social praise or other rewards. Some parents give a prize to the first one to complete a schedule or to those who beat the timer.

Here are some websites that can help you create a schedule: PBIS World and Do2Learn.

When making a schedule, try using pictures of your child doing the activity. This helps your child understand that the schedule is for him or her, and increases compliance. If you are unable to take pictures of your child, then take pictures of items he or she will need in your house to do the activities on the schedule. For teens who are high-functioning, a checklist with a calendar might work just as well. Use whatever method your child will likely use independently and with accuracy.

Use a social story about going to school

Social stories are a simple way to let your child know what to expect in the future, and they are a great way to help them prepare for going back to school. Often social stories can be used to explain the rules or order of events. They are written in first person so that your child knows it is about him or her. Use a positive tone to reduce anxiety.

Here are some websites that can help you create social stories: Child-Autism-Parent-Cafe.com, Do2Learn, PBIS World, and Supporting Autism Spectrum.

Create a profile of your child for teachers

Even teachers who have taught your child before will be interested to know about new and emerging skills. For those who are new to your child, including regular education teachers; music, art, and other special teachers; speech therapists; and OTs, this information can be invaluable. Having been the teacher on the receiving end of new students, I can say that unfortunately, IEPs from the sending school are not always available to the new teacher on the first day of school. Having a student profile is very helpful.

Because teachers have so many students, you should condense the information to one page. Be sure to include your child’s strengths, areas of challenge, motivators, and strategies in case things do turn toward trouble. It is also very helpful to let teachers know the behaviors that indicate your child is getting stressed, so that they can implement a distraction or a calming technique.

Helpful resources:

  • Website: The Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center provides a step-by-step guide online.
  • Webinar: ASNC will offer an online workshop called “All About Me” on Saturday, Aug. 15. Register here.

If writing is not your thing, you can go to the Do2Learn website, print out the descriptors for the main areas of autism, and then highlight those that define your child. The site also lists strategies that are helpful in those cases, and you can highlight any that have been helpful for your child. If you know of strategies that have been effective at home or school and are not listed, be sure to share these as well.

Other ways to prepare your child

Try reading age-appropriate books about starting school, which should be available at your public library. For some children, listening to a book about someone else starting school is a non-threatening way of bringing up the topic. Another idea is to role-play going to school the first day with your child. Some families use toys to “play the part” of other children in the class or teachers – but don’t use a toy that is already an obsession, or you might create more problems. Just seeing pictures of the school and classmates might be helpful in getting them ready. All of these methods provide a way to resolve any anxiety your child might have about the coming year.

Visit school before the school year starts

A week or so before school starts, arrange a visit. For many of our families, a meeting before school is much more helpful to the student and the teachers than coming to an open house, which is usually overstimulating. This would be a great time to give your child’s personal profile to teachers. Be sure to take pictures, so you can review them with your child several times before the first day of school. Take pictures of the teachers and common places: the lunchroom, playground, gym, and the classrooms where your child will spend time. Try to meet as many of your child’s teachers as is possible. This will help your child develop a mental picture of what to expect, and it will ease anxieties that arise the first day. Also meet the office staff and be sure they know your child. They will be the ones who need to know that your child cannot walk themselves down the hall to a class alone when they are tardy. They will be the ones who greet you on the phone when you call the school, so they need to have an understanding of your child and your life.

Create structure for afterschool, too

Make a schedule for afterschool and create some down time with limited talking and expectations. A day filled with language is tiring for many of our kids, and they need a sensory-free zone to decompress before they begin the expectations of home. For some kids, listening to music is calming.

It is important to get school work out of the way while it is fresh in their memory, so don’t wait too long to start. If working on homework is a problem, break it down into smaller, more manageable parts and reward your child for working independently, perhaps with a short sensory break or a 5-minute break to do some other preferred activity.

Using a schedule helps children realize that the list of work to be done is getting shorter and that they have another break to look forward to after completing more work. For some older students, a checklist might be more appealing. Many students forget to record their homework assignments, so be sure to find out whether their teachers have a website or Wiki site or other means to check on assignments. Lastly, a great way to prepare for the next day is by having your child help pick out their clothes and put all the things they will need for school in a place that will be easy to access in the morning.

Call on us

If you would like more advice, feel free to contact the Autism Resource Specialist for your part of the state. Every year we spend time helping parents solve challenges related to going back to school and schools that don’t seem to be supportive. We will be happy to help you, too.

If you would like more in-depth information on any of these topics, check out the ASNC Bookstore, especially the following categories: Visual Supports, Classroom, and Children’s Books. Through August, you can save 15% on online orders with the code BTSS2015.

We also offer frequent workshops on school-related topics as well as online toolkits; we hope you will take advantage of these resources.

The new school year is here, let’s get it done!

Nancy Nestor can be reached at nnestor@autismsociety-nc.org or 704-894-9678.

Tips and Strategies to Address Challenging Behaviors

visualschedulesThis article was contributed by Nancy LaCross, ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in the Raleigh area.

As a parent of an adult child with autism, I understand firsthand how difficult it can be to support a loved one with significant behavioral challenges. I can remember reaching out to one professional after another looking for the magical solution to end the challenging behaviors immediately. Time and time again, I would leave a professional’s office feeling a bit deflated because there wasn’t a quick solution. Though my son had some wonderful skills in some areas, his severe behaviors seemed to impede his ability to access many resources in the community.

Though I don’t have a magical solution for ending challenging behaviors, I do have a parent’s perspective on tips and strategies that have helped my own child.

If your child has negative behaviors, I would first encourage you to identify the target behaviors. A few examples:

  • Physical aggression: hitting, biting, kicking, spitting, and head butting
  • Property destruction: breaking windows, throwing items, and breaking toys
  • Self-injurious behaviors: head banging, pulling out own hair, and biting self
  • Sound-making: humming, yelling, screaming, and making unusual sounds
  • Unusual body movements: tilting head in unusual positions, flapping arms, jumping, and flicking fingers
  • Non-compliance: not completing tasks, not following safety rules, not following rules at school, and refusing to do tasks

Once the target behaviors are clearly identified, figure out the function of the behaviors. What is the person communicating to you with these behaviors? Could it be that the person…

  • feels unsafe
  • doesn’t know what they should be doing
  • feels ill
  • is avoiding a task
  • prefers another activity
  • has sensory issues
  • wants attention

Once you identify the target behaviors and figure out the function of the behaviors, then you might want to investigate whether there are triggers for these behaviors. Are things being done that would increase the likelihood of a behavior to occur? Here are some examples of my own child’s triggers:

  • Not knowing who is in charge
  • Not knowing what to do
  • Hearing negative words such as no, don’t, can’t, and stop
  • Misunderstanding verbal directions or comments
  • Misunderstanding facts vs. opinions
  • Not understanding when to begin and/or end a task
  • Feeling unsafe with people, an environment, or a situation
  • Others aren’t following the rules
  • A change to the schedule
  • Expectations aren’t understood

Once we have identified triggers, then we might be able to avoid some behaviors by making modification and/or accommodations to what we as caregivers do. Below are some examples of how our family and professionals working with my son made modifications to our old way of doing things:

  • Not knowing who is in charge
    • An index card was created with the name of the person that was his go-to person at the time. For a younger child, they might also need a photo of the person.
  • Not knowing what to do
    • A visual schedule was created for him. When he was very young, the schedule was an If –Then schedule but as he got older, we could add more items.
    • My son really benefits from a task analysis: step-by-step directions on what he needs to do during an activity, which is listed on his schedule.
  • Hearing negative words like no, don’t, can’t, and stop
    • We try very hard to avoid using negative words. We had to train ourselves to tell our son what to do, instead of what not to do. For example, if our son was hitting a toy, we would redirect by saying, “hands by your side.” If we said “stop hitting your toy,” it would escalate the behaviors.
  • Misunderstanding verbal directions or comments
    • Keep it simple. Limit words.
    • If possible, use pictures or written words to communicate
    • Now that my son is older, we find texting to be an excellent way to communicate with him.
  • Misunderstanding facts vs. opinions
    • We work on these concepts on a daily basis. He doesn’t understand that other people may have a different perspective or opinion than his own.
  • Not understanding when to begin and/or end a task
    • A schedule and a task analysis are effective tools for creating a clear beginning and end.
    • When he was younger, we used a visual timer.
    • When he was younger we also would tell him how many more times he could do an activity. For example, if he was using the slide at the local playground we would say, “five more slides, then in the car” (holding up 5 fingers), and we would count each turn.
  • He feels unsafe
    • Provide him with the name and contact information for a trusted person to communicate with if he feels unsafe and needs reassurance.
    • Share a list of rules and regulations with him about the setting that he is going to be in.
    • Prepare him for a new environment or situation by reading him a social story in advance.
  • He feels that others are making fun of him
    • We have used role playing and social stories to work on this concept.
    • We also used Jed Baker’s social story picture books.
  • Others aren’t following the rules
    • We used social stories to try to teach him more about this.
  • A change to the schedule
    • Advance notice can be helpful
    • Using a social story to prepare for a change
    • When my son was in middle school, we used to have one activity for the day be “change in activity” or “mystery activity” just to get him used to having something unexpected happen each day.
  • Expectations aren’t understood
    • Again using a schedule and task analyses make expectations much easier to understand.
    • We also had to be sure tasks were within his skill set.

Teaching your child new skills

  • Self-regulation: When my son was very young, he had poor body awareness and often seemed to go from 1 (calm) to 5 (full meltdown) quickly. He might be calmly playing with a peer and then suddenly pushing them to the ground. We found that working with an occupational therapist experienced with sensory integration was helpful. When my son got revved up, we had to find ways to help him calm down. Under the supervision of a private occupational therapist, we used oral motor sensory objects (examples: chewy candies, gum, and chewy tubes), weight-bearing activities (pressing on the wall, weighted blankets, weighted vests, and heavy work), and exercise (jumping on a trampoline, swinging, running in place, jumping to the sky and touching the ground, and rolling on the floor) to work on self-regulation.
  • Replacement behaviors: Sometimes if we understand the function of a behavior, then we can assist the individual in replacing the behavior with something more desirable. For example, my son might tear up a homework sheet or break his pencil while working on his schoolwork. What my son was trying to communicate was that he was frustrated with his homework. Though he was verbal, when he was overwhelmed, his verbal skills disappeared. At that moment, he didn’t have the ability to use his words to ask for help. We learned that if we first provided him with a visual card to ask for help and provided him with homework expectations (“You need to do two problems,” or “You need to work for 10 minutes and the timer is set”) then he was much less likely to rip up his homework sheet and break the pencil.

If you need more support in managing behaviors, here are some people or resources you might consider:

  • Teachers
  • Special education staff at your child’s school or at the central office
  • Pediatrician or primary care doctor for a referral
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Applied Behavior Analyst: Find a board certified behavior therapist at www.bacb.com.
  • Contact your MCO: My son has benefitted from a service called Specialized Consultative Services. If you need to know more about services and how to obtain them, please read the ASNC Accessing Services Toolkit
  • ASNC Clinical Team
  • Call your local Autism Resource Specialist for options
  • ASNC Bookstore, at www.autismbookstore.com, offers a few of my favorite books for teaching social skills to my son and working on behavioral issues:
    • The Incredible 5-Point Scale assisted my son in identifying behaviors/emotions/anxiety and then having a concrete system in place to know how to manage it. The scale can then transition with my son throughout his day.
    • A 5 is Against the Law! This has been an excellent concrete visual system for my son. We have been using this book to assist our son in understanding how his behaviors are perceived by others, how social expectations change as he ages, and how some behaviors are okay in one settings, like home, but not okay in others, like school or a job.
    • The Ziggurat Model is a good resource for those interested in learning more about behavior plans.
    • The Hidden Curriculum helped me as a parent to identify the areas that my child may find challenging.
    • Social Skills Picture Books: All of Dr. Jed Baker’s social skills picture books were excellent tools for me to read and review with my son. The pictures provided my son with concrete examples of social situations he would encounter in a school setting

Nancy LaCross can be contacted at nlacross@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5093.

Bringing Autism and Faith Communities Together


This article was contributed by Judy Clute, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in Raleigh and mom to a son with autism.

During recent Easter celebrations, my thoughts turned to the many families who would not be participating in a worship service because they have a child with autism. Many families have told me that they tried to attend worship but it was just too difficult, or that they haven’t found a place of worship where their child is truly accepted. I felt the same way for years. The truth is that most families with children with autism cannot make it to the door of a worship service, so faith leaders don’t see the need.

For families who have a child with autism, participating in a faith community is a struggle. Often children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) find the environment overwhelming. Factors such as large crowds of people, bright lights, strange sounds, loud music, smells, and unfamiliar rituals are just too much. They may have difficulty sitting for long periods of time, and having to listen to a speaker when language is not understood can be exasperating. And to add to that, the stares or curious glances by those who do not understand their behavior are just too much to bear.

Parents of children with ASD are already exhausted from feeling unwelcome in many places in the community. Children with autism have difficulty making friends and often are socially awkward. For some parents whose children are severely affected by autism, even basic, daily care is stressful. Many families are also struggling with the financial burden of taking their child to several therapies. So, one of the first places families might go for support and understanding is their faith community, but unfortunately, this isn’t always what they find.

I believe that faith communities really want to help and want to be accepting, but leaders and members often just do not know how or where to begin. So, how can we bridge the gap? Here are some practical ways for your family and a faith community to come together:

To parents

  • You play a very important role. If you want your child to be served well, you need to tell anyone who works with your child about him or her.
  • Introduce your family and child to faith-based community leaders. I know it can be difficult and exhausting to have to explain your child to yet another person. But it is so important.
  • Discuss your child’s individual needs. What does your child need to have modified or what accommodation needs to be put in place for your child to succeed? Which positive reinforcements work for your child at home? What motivates your child?
  • Prepare your child. However your child communicates, whether it is verbally or with a picture exchange or written schedule, let your child know what is coming. Our kids do not like surprises. Bring your child to your faith community outside of a service, when very few people are present. Let your child walk around, touch, smell, and experience the environment. Introduce your child to the staff members who will be working with your child. Write a schedule of what the morning might look like on a Sunday in class.
  • Always think about what works best for your child. Maybe spending the entire time in a worship service is too much. Perhaps a slow introduction into service or a classroom would work best instead of expecting them to stay the entire time. Do not feel guilty about the decisions you make about what is best for your family.

For the faith community

  • Be welcoming and supportive. Have an attitude of openness and a desire to be supportive.
  • Assure parents that you want to provide them with a positive experience. Ask them what their goals are. Are they hoping their child will be included with typical peers? Do they need supports or accommodations? Are they looking for a separate class to meet their child’s needs?
  • Ask about the child’s interests, likes, dislikes, gifts, and talents. Does their child have any special talents or gifts that they would like to share? You can get the information you need with a questionnaire and/or an open conversation.
  • Don’t judge; understand that challenges may keep the family from being as involved as they would like.
  • Remember, families who have a child with autism have the same needs as other families: a need to belong, a need to be accepted, a need to be supported, and the desire to live out their faith.

Faith communities have a desire to grow, and subsequently they need to reach out to all people with love and acceptance, including families affected by autism. Finding a supportive and inclusive faith community can empower these families to grow in their faith walk. The faith community also grows when they welcome all families to be involved. It teaches those in the faith community about compassion and understanding of individual differences and challenges. Everyone benefits.

Read more on this topic

Shop online for books on autism and the faith community at our bookstore www.autismbookstore.com. Some we especially recommend:

Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Barbara J Newman

Leading a Special Needs Ministry, by Amy Fenton Lee

The Ignored, Overlooked and Often Forgotten Souls, by Dr. Marion Landua-Figueroa


Judy Clute can be reached at jclute@autismsociety-nc.org.

Learning Through Seeing

This article was contributed by Kathleen Dolbee, a parent and ASNC Autism Resource Specialist for Western North Carolina.


Available in the ASNC Bookstore at http://www.autismbookstore.com

No two minds are exactly alike; each has its own way of learning. What works well for one person may not work as well for another.

For example, some people grasp and remember ideas better when they see pictures or diagrams. Others prefer the written word or the spoken word better still, maybe a combination of these. Children with autism learn in a variety of ways; most are visual learners with an exceptional eye for detail. Jennifer Savner and Brenda Smith Myles, authors of “Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community,” make this point: “research has shown that for many children with ASD, one way of learning – learning through seeing – is superior.”

Parents of children with limited language are often eager to use visuals, wanting desperately to find a way to teach their child the power of communication. As users of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) have proven, often a visual becomes the springboard for verbal communication.

But what about the verbal child? Parents of highly verbal children sometimes resist the use of visuals, presuming that because their child can talk, it means that he can communicate. That may be true on a stress-free day or when attempting to teach simple concepts. But stress-free days are few and far between, and as children get older, academic and social concepts become more complex.

Be honest. Do you find that you are having to repeat yourself over and over again? Are you feeling frustrated? Do you sense that your child is frustrated? Savner and Myles note: “The tricky thing … is that your child usually will not say to you, ‘I do not understand. Please give me a visual.’” Yet his behavior may be sending that message loud and clear. Does your child tantrum? Is your child truly independent in daily living skills or is he or she dependent on constant verbal prompting? Does your child ignore your verbal reminders? Does your child have difficulty getting started or completing all the necessary steps of a particular task?

If you and/or your child are frustrated by a communication disconnect, please consider introducing visuals into your daily routine. Even highly verbal children benefit when sequenced routines and abstract concepts are made easier to grasp through the use of visuals. In addition, when children’s independence increases, so does their self-esteem.

If the thought of creating visuals leaves you feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, Savner and Miles suggest starting small, creating just one visual support to see how it works, and then progressing from there.

If you need help, connect with other parents or contact the ASNC Resource Specialist in your community. We’re here to help.

Kathleen Dolbee can be reached at kdolbee@autismsociety-nc.org or 828-236-1547.

Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community” is available in the Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore, your one-stop shop for quality autism resources. Buy from us and support ASNC’s mission!