Classroom Management for Autistic Students

By Dr. Jennifer Dustow 

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Classroom management is essential for any successful teacher.  For teachers of diverse populations, this can be particularly challenging. Before a teacher can focus on getting to the learning aspect, they must first address behaviors that hinder learning. How can a teacher whose students have diverse needs manage difficult behaviors?

In 2007, I conducted a research study with 88 preschoolers diagnosed under the autism spectrum within 20 Department of Education (DOE) special education classrooms on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In that six week study, I measured the influences of bilateral (midline) exercises conducted once a day (morning) on off tasked behaviors such as aggression, flopping (dropping to the ground), eloping (running away), nonstop talking/a scrip communication (talking like their favorite cartoon character) and non-focusing behaviors. Midline or bilateral exercises are exercises that cross the midline of the body.

In my research study, by introducing midline exercises to the morning “circle time” routine, the results were dramatic, leading to publication of my research into 27 languages.  Unfortunately, because the research was originally written for academia, the important findings remained solely in the academic world. It was clear to me that I needed to get this information out to the general public in a user-friendly format. Thus the H.A.P.P.Y. (hug me time, angel taps, positive pose, perfect job, you’re a star) midline exercises within the book Embracing Calmness Midline Exercises (sold on Amazon.com) was created, along with a YouTube channel (Dr. Jennifer Dustow) that demonstrates those five midline exercises free. Research continues to demonstrate that off-task behaviors decrease when a child's mind is in a calm state. My proactive H.A.P.P.Y. midline exercises approach works and is fun and easy for children to do.

Since the release of Embracing Calmness Midline Exercises, I have been working on an app that includes these five midline exercises in a much more interactive format that enhances the YouTube videos online. This app will be launched in the spring/summer 2020. However, trainings and certifications are available now at drjenniferdustowllc.teachable.com.

The teachers that have incorporated the H.A.P.P.Y. midline exercises at the start of their school day and after their lunch break have reported calmer and more focused students. To quote one teacher, “Every morning I walk into my classroom and I have no idea what the day is going to be like, but my job is to make sure my students are learning. So many mornings are wasted on getting the student to settle down including the students with autism that have classroom aides. Now, when my students arrive, together we do the H.A.P.P.Y. midline exercises that only take about 5 minutes. We become not only inclusive, but focused.”  

About the author

Dr. Jennifer Dustow works with families diagnosed under the autism spectrum. The scope of what she does also includes working with schools and teachers. Over the past 13 years, she has found that when teachers have effective tools, they feel empowered. When they feel empowered, they go above and beyond opening the door for these amazing children to learn and take their place. For more information about Dr. Dustow, visit these sites: drjenniferdustow.com, drjenniferdustowllc.teachable.com, alohaautismdevelopmentfoundation.com, and cornerstoneeducationalpreschool.com.

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