Field trips can be a very important part of the school experience for all children, including children with Autism. Field trips broaden children’s horizons and give them experiences that build knowledge and understanding. Having background knowledge of things that happen in stories, such as going to the zoo or playing in a park, is an essential component of reading comprehension. Since students with Autism often have challenges with language, it is important that a lack of experiences does not make reading more difficult. Field trips and community outings can also be great topics to use for teaching conversational and social skills with peers and friends.
Field trips can also capture or inspire a special interest in a student, which may lead to future career possibilities. For example, a student who loves marine life may be inspired by a class trip to an aquarium. Students can learn more about the careers available in the field, or may even be interested in working at a job in a location such as an aquarium or museum.
We may wonder what a student with Autism may “get” from the experience of going on a field trip. It is often difficult to know how much students with Autism understand from their environment, but they often surprise me with the things they pick up when no one thought they were listening. In her blog, the Joy of Autism, Estee Klar shares this thought about community experiences, “We all need time to filter -- to let experience penetrate all of our senses. We need time to process, to get used to new things without being pressured or judged.” Perhaps one of the best things a student with Autism can “get” from a field trip is simply the experience itself: the beauty of visiting a butterfly garden or the excitement at seeing the lion roar at the zoo. In describing her desire for her son to have holiday photos taken with Santa Claus, a mother said, “Who knows what life moments seep down into a kid’s brain, even one with autism? We don’t know.” She’s right that we don’t know, but I think that we are better off if we assume that it does make a difference, and give kids the chance to experience all life has to offer.
However, field trips for students with Autism are not without difficulty. Many students with Autism thrive on consistency and routine, and a change of schedule such as a field trip can be very difficult. Add in any sensory issues that may arise, such as hot temperatures, loud noises, and large crowds of people, and the student may have even more challenges with the event. A strategy that I like to use for my students to help them prepare for field trips is “Social Stories.”
A Social Story is a tool for teaching social skills in a variety of situations. It provides a written example (often supported by pictures) of what a person can expect to happen in a social situation, and what he or she will need to do in that situation. More information about social stories can be found here: http://www.positivelyautism.com/volume2issue8/ . When I write a social story for an upcoming field trip, I like to include the following:
Examples of two social stories, complete with pictures, can be found in this month’s free downloads.
"I believe in experience. No matter how hard it is -- when a child has a meltdown and you feel like melting away as a parent -- we have to get up and keep trying. Dinners out, the zoo, the movies even if for only ten minutes at a time -- we've got to keep exposing our children to the world that also belongs to them." - Estee Klar
Santa project helps autistic children make magical memories
By Lee Hill Kavanaugh
The Kansas City Star
Monday, Dec. 15, 2008
The Joy of Autism Blog
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Experience and Literacy
http://www.esteeklar.com/files/The_Joy_of_Autism.pdf (note: this is a very large file).