Parents of autistic children often worry when their little ones reach school-going age. They are concerned if the educational approach or the institution they choose for their child will be a good fit for their learning needs.
Autism is a spectrum disorder that impairs a child’s ability to interact and communicate with others. This means a child with autism will have drastically different learning needs compared to other children.
How Montessori Can Help Your Autistic Child Learn Through Play
Taking your autistic child to a traditional learning institution may also make it difficult for your child to achieve developmental milestones. This is why many autistic children’s parents look for alternative education such as the Montessori way of learning.
What is Montessori education?
Montessori is a child-focused education approach that was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician. This approach encourages children to work independently with the help of designed learning materials.
This education method fosters rigorous growth in the learner’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development areas.
What Montessori says about play
According to Montessori, children enjoy play that is related to reality. They are happier when they are given real materials or near-real materials to play with. For instance, a matching game with real safari animals is a better play object than one with imaginary animals such as a unicorn.
Further, Montessori observed that children were happier when they played with items that led to moments of discovery, concentration, and engagement. This is very different from other forms of play where anything goes and which are also chaotic.
Besides, in a Montessori learning environment, children are left to be kids. This means:
- They are allowed to play freely
- Allowed to follow their curiosity to where it may lead
- Given play materials that are based on reality to produce accurate results
Why Montessori play is suitable for your autistic child
If you’re wondering why Montessori play comes highly recommended for autistic children and those with special needs, here are the reasons why.
Freedom in play makes it easier for autistic children to learn.
It’s all about what your child wants to do in a Montessori classroom and not what they are obliged to do. Children are allowed to choose freely which of the play activities in the classroom they want to concentrate on.
Children are also allowed to choose their play activity and take as much time as possible in this play activity. Further, the Montessori classroom allows a child to quit a particular game or activity and start something else.
The emphasis here is to follow the child rather than directing play. In this educational approach, the teacher or parent is a guide and an observer who encourages them to act, think, and want by themselves.
This aspect of Montessori play gives your autistic child enough time to learn something by themselves at a comfortable pace. It also helps them to engage their senses and nurture their talents and passions ultimately. Also, your child’s confidence and self-esteem will improve due to individualized positive learning.
Consistent, safe play environment for your child
The Montessori classroom has a prepared play environment that is highly structured and predictable which is perfect for autistic children as they need consistency. A Montessori playing and learning environment should be well organized, clean, and orderly with everything in place. This is very calming to the senses of an autistic child.
If you observe a Montessori classroom, you’ll be struck by the structure and calm of the children involved. No chaos can be highly distracting for children with special needs.
Besides, the predictable daily play routine emphasized in a Montessori classroom also gives your child stability. For instance, the classroom may have visual aids and play schedules that help your child get a glimpse of how their day will be like. The visual aids and schedules also help autistic children who struggle with transition be better prepared for any classroom changes.
Play involves being actively alert but not stressed.
Structured play in the Montessori educational approach is derived partly from the rules in the player’s mind. For instance, your child’s play may involve pouring water so that none spills. This point of interest –pouring water so that none spills make the game rules.
Since play involves paying attention to the game’s processes and rules, then your child’s mind will be active and alert.
In a Montessori classroom, play is more focused on the process rather than the outcome. There is also no sense of competition in a Montessori class that often characterizes traditional schools, and the learners aren’t tested or graded.
Further, your child isn’t expected to passively absorb information from their environment, follow the rules without questions, or reflexively respond to the environmental stimuli. They will also be free from external demands and strong drives and emotions that cause pressure or stress when learning.
This ensures your child isn’t distracted by the fear of failure. Their minds stay alert and active as the attention is turned to the activity itself, promoting learning.
Multi-aged peer groups that promote learning
The Montessori educational approach embraces diversity and inclusion. Your special needs child will feel safe and welcome in a class that respects others.
A Montessori classroom will often have children of mixed ages. Autistic children like observing things first before they can try them out. In a classroom with your child’s peers, it’s easy for your little ones to learn by observing their friends first.
Such a class also promotes acceptance and kindness as there are no judgments or scolding from the teacher or other students. You’ll also notice that your child will find it easy to reinforce what they have learned through teaching it to others.
Hands-on play that encourages learning
In a Montessori classroom, your child’s play is also a learning opportunity. The child learns by using hands-on classroom materials and toys that engage their senses and teach them skills.
A Montessori school will also offer specialized Montessori toys depending on your child’s needs. These toys are a variety and aren’t visually obstructive, encouraging your child to focus their attention on the task at hand. Such simulations also promote multi-sensory learning and engagement for your child.
In closing, the Montessori classroom is a well-prepared environment with play elements that exist for a reason. Children play with real and almost real items giving them the ability to explore. The children also have freedom in the classroom, although there exist clear limits. The classroom also integrates children of different ages to promote respect, socialization, and solidarity.