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        Best Kept Secret: Learning about Autism: A Service Learning Project

        According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 50 U.S. children is autistic. That means there are likely to be several children with autism in every school in the country. To address the integration of those children, this lesson involves older students in a service learning project to create an activity or piece of media that helps younger students learn about autism and, where relevant, their classmates. In addition to teaching about autism, the project offers students opportunities to practice research, writing, speaking, multimedia, organizational and time management skills.

        Lesson Summary

        According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 50 U.S. children is autistic. That means there are likely to be several children with autism in every school in the country. To address the integration of those children, this lesson involves older students in a service learning project to create an activity or piece of media that helps younger students learn about autism and, where relevant, their classmates. In addition to teaching about autism, the project offers students opportunities to practice research, writing, speaking, multimedia, organizational and time management skills.

        Time Allotment

        Most of this project will take place outside of class, but to screen the film clips, plan on one 50-minute class period, and then one additional class period at the end of the project to share student work.

        Learning Objectives

        • demonstrate an understanding of autism spectrum disorder
        • design an activity and/or create a presentation to explain what they know to younger students

        Supplies

        • Internet access and equipment to show the class online video
        • Internet access for student research
        • multimedia production equipment (if needed)

        Introductory Activity

        1. Introduce the assignment: Either individually or in teams, prepare an activity or a presentation to help elementary school students learn about autism. (Consider inviting speakers who have experience with autism to address the class. Potential speakers include family members of children with autism, people on the autism spectrum who are comfortable speaking publicly about their experiences, special education teachers, researchers and clinical specialists from your community.)

        To complete their projects, students will need to conduct research to ensure that the information they share is accurate.

        Note: Choose the parameters of the activity or presentation according to your curriculum needs. If students need to practice writing, then you might assign them to create an informational children's book. If they need to practice English, they might create a bilingual captioned video. If public speaking is a goal, then a class presentation or short play might be the best choice. Use this as an opportunity to differentiate instruction.

        Also, choose a target audience (e.g., 5th graders or 2nd graders). If possible, identify an actual class that is willing to have students present their final projects.

        To add a media literacy component, ask students to evaluate their research sources and explain which were the most credible and why.

        Be sure to let students know the project due date. You can give them as little as a week or as long as a month. Consider establishing interim check-in deadlines to report on project progress.

        Learning Activities

        2. To get students started, show all of the film clips. Following the clips, invite students to react. To help them see people with autism as individuals and not as stereotypes, encourage them to describe the personalities of Quran and Erik. In the remaining class time, allow teams to meet and begin planning their projects. If needed, take a few minutes to talk about the developmental level of the target audience.

        3. On the due date, have students share synopses of their projects or, if projects are short, the actual work. Encourage the class to evaluate the effectiveness of each project in terms of accuracy of information, how well it would hold the attention of the target audience and any other criteria you deem important to meeting curriculum goals (e.g., quality of informational writing or clarity of spoken English). As an option, the class might vote for the best two or three projects and arrange to present them to elementary school students.

        Culminating Activity

        EXTENSIONS

        1. Have students present their projects to community groups.

        2. Facilitate volunteer opportunities, either at schools or at local agencies, for students who are interested in working with or just spending time with people who have autism.

        3. Screen Best Kept Secret in its entirety and have students brainstorm solutions to the challenge of post-graduation placement for young adults on the far end of the autism spectrum.

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