5 Tips For Teaching Noisy Pupils with Autism
As a teacher, I know how hard it can be to teach noisy pupils. Not only do they tend to shout out answers and make loud contributions of their own but they can also distract other pupils within the mainstream classroom. And that’s before we even consider noisy stims…
However, as a woman with Aspergers, I know how difficult it can be NOT to blurt things out and how difficult it is to keep track of just how loud your voice is! Also many stims are often unconsciously done from tapping feet to clicking jewellery so trying to remain quiet is really hard for those on the spectrum.
So what is the answer? Before anything else, acceptance and understanding are important. No matter how hard a pupil with autism tries to limit their noises, there are always going to be occasions where they forget or excitement takes over. What is important is that teachers promote tolerance in their classroom.
So what else can a teacher do? Here are my top 5 tips for teaching noisy pupils.
1. A Classroom Noise-O-Meter
Firstly you may want to consider a ‘classroom noise-o-meter’. This is a simple scale 0-5 printed out, laminated and attached to the side of your whiteboard. 0 is silence and 5 is as loud as it can be. A simple arrow can be attached with blue tack and moved up and down the scale to show the class just how loud they are!
This makes all the pupils aware of loud they are as a class. You can also use it with noisy pupils by instead of telling them off, getting them to tell you how noisy they currently think they are. If they say they were too loud, then they understand your point and are then usually quieter afterwards. If they don’t realise how loud they are it’s a quick teaching point to say, ‘actually you were nearer to a 5 than a 2. Remember we need to be quieter so everyone can listen and learn.’
I’ve used this myself and it really works! It also comes in handy during assessments when you can put it on 0 to remind them there’s no talking!
2. Sit Noisy Pupils Near To You
The second suggestion, and this may seem like an obvious one, is to sit noisier pupils near to you. I always do this, but I’m often surprised by how different staff have their seating plans and so I think it’s worth mentioning.
By sitting a noisier pupil nearer to you, it is easy to see (and hear!) when they are off topic. A quick question, ‘How are you doing?’ can often get them back on track without the pupil feeling ‘told off’. Whilst most pupils wouldn’t react to a comment from the teacher about talking or being noisy, pupils with autism can often be very sensitive to ‘perceived’ tellings off by a teacher. They would be unlikely to see a question from a teacher in the same way but it would still encourage them to re-engage with their work.
Something to also bear in mind, is that other pupils can become upset with constant noises and interruptions and occasionally this can lead to unkindness and name-calling. If a noisier pupil is sat nearer to you (especially one with autism) it is more likely you’ll hear any nasty comments and can deal with them quickly.
3. Question Cards
This idea came out of sheer desperation whilst I was once teaching a rather bright and curious pupil with Autism and ADHD!
Interestingly enough it wasn’t noises or shouting out that were the problem. It was the fact that the pupil had endless questions. And I mean endless! We were discussing nature in a novel and the amount of questions the pupil asked about owls was phenomenal! How do owls sleep? Do you think they can understand each other? How close do they have to be before they can spot their prey?
Needless to say I was exhausted! I didn’t want to stop the pupil asking questions, but they weren’t focused on their work and the pace of my lessons was slowing trying to answer them.
As this pupil was able to write confidently, I gave them 3 laminated question cards. Instead of asking questions throughout the lesson, they then had to write down the 3 questions they really wanted an answer to. In return for the pupil not interrupting my lesson, I agreed to give them a few minutes at the end of each lesson to ask me the 3 questions. If I didn’t know, I’d promise to find out for the next lesson.
It worked beautifully. Not only did the pupil start to think seriously about what they wanted to ask, but they learnt through the process that there is a right time and a wrong time for questions!
4. Inside and Outside Voice
This works really well for pupils with autism who have very black and white thinking. A noise-o-meter could be too difficult. They may find it hard to tell the difference between a 3 and 4 in terms of volume. Instead it becomes very simple. An outside voice how you shout to your mates on the yard at break. An inside voice is how we would talk if there was a baby in the room.
Why go with when a baby is in the room? I noticed in the pupils I taught that whenever a colleague brought their baby in to meet staff (and some pupils who were always nearby!) that even the loudest, most disruptive pupil would become much quieter. Whether it was from having brothers and sisters at home, I’m not sure but it worked. They never asked ‘How loud is that?’ They would just know.
5. Quiet Fiddle Toys
Finally, we have all taught a pupil who just has to fiddle with something. Whether it’s stimming or fidgeting they still have to move. Whether it’s tapping a pencil, taking apart a pen or drumming their fingers on the desk they just have to move. And that’s okay.
What is more challenging is when a child arrives with a ‘fiddle toy’ given to them by parents or paediatricians to play with in class. In my experience, many of these toys are brightly coloured and made from hard plastic. These attract the attention of other pupils. They are also quite noisy when tapping on the desk and are easily taken apart leading to a clattering of hard plastic pieces attracting the attention of everyone nearby. . Not only does this disrupt the lesson but the pupil often becomes completely distracted from the lesson trying to put the thing back together again!
There are other fiddle toys that are fine. The are made of soft materials, that don’t click or clatter. My personal opinion on the best thing to give a pupil who needs to fiddle? Blu-tac. They can twist it, shape it, make models out of it if they want to but it’s quiet. Other pupils see it as boring . This it stops the ‘why can they have a toy and I can’t?’ questions.
What ways do you have to manage noisier pupils in the classroom?
Comment below and let me know.