Autism Education: Can Montessori Help Young Children On The Spectrum?

Now that your your child is old enough to begin pre-school or kindergarten, you are probably wondering what the future has in store. No child with autism is exactly alike, and they all have very definite and specific needs. Public school classrooms try their best to accommodate these needs, but sometimes, children need a different learning environment. Here are a few reasons why early childhood education from the Montessori school approach might help your child, especially if they are on the autism spectrum. 

More Flexibility For Processing

Sensory processing can be difficult for children with autism, because they interpret sounds, colors, and emotions differently than other children. The intense structure of a traditional school environment, with limits on activities, can be difficult for your child to adapt to. Montessori schools allow a more open approach to learning, allowing a child's more natural curiosity to direct his or her activities. If your child needs time to understand or process a certain activity, or feels more comfortable observing instead of participating at first, this alternative learning style allows this type of flexibility. 

However, because each child is different, it is important to parents to really consider the struggles and strengths of their child before choosing any school. For example, some autistic children thrive on rules and structure, because too much sensory input at once can be overwhelming. If this is the case, the more strict scheduling of traditional school may be a better choice, because this flexibility may be a struggle. It simply depends on the needs of the child.

Allowance For Special Interests

Children with autism often have very defined interests, even from a young age. For example your child may love anything to do with insects, and all of his or her activities might fixate on this interest. If your child fixates on something in the Montessori classroom, teachers will encourage the natural interest and allow him or her to cultivate it as much as they would like to. Montessori teachers might also use this interest to help your child learn other skills. For example, if your child is fascinated by water or dogs, they might teach counting or the alphabet using these subjects as a vehicle. 

Individualized Education

Montessori classroom are not crowded, and each child's learning needs are continually assessed. The teachers are specially trained to work with each student on an individual level, helping them with specific tasks. Your child will get more one-on-one teaching time than he or she would in a standard kindergarten class, and more tolerance for out-of-the box behaviors.

For example, if your child likes to write only on orange paper, or if he or she enjoys spinning a top on the table during an activity, these would probably be allowed in the Montessori classroom, if it helps the child to focus or brings them comfort. 

Focus On Feelings

Social cues are another area where an autistic child might struggle. They might not have the same emotional awareness as other children, or they might lack control over big feelings like anger or jealousy. Montessori teachers help students to develop social skills by labeling feelings for students, and by teaching basic social norms. Children with autism can learn social expectation some of the time-- they just don't learn them in the same way. With the focus on getting to the root of the problem, your child would benefit from learning in this kind of environment. 

Hands On Teaching And Visual Aids

If your child has difficulty speaking or interpreting language, teachers in this alternative classroom can help. Much of a Montessori education is based on the idea that teachers should show how things work, instead of telling how things work. This means less lecture time, and more time in the world. You child will still learn the basics, like colors or shapes, but he or she will learn them with the help of visuals as the focus, instead of speaking and writing. Natural problem solving and sensory activities are at the heart of the learning environment. All forms of communication are valued in this classroom.