Strategies for Teaching a Nonverbal Student with Autism


Hey there, teacher friends! I hope you are all embracing the joy of sharing the word of God with your sweet students. Today, I wanted to dive into a topic that deserves some special attention: strategies for teaching students with disabilities, including nonverbal students with autism spectrum disorder. Now, I know this can be a challenge, especially if you don’t have much experience with students with disabilities, but don’t let this discourage you! We’re all in this together, and I’m here to offer some teaching strategies and encouragement to help you navigate this wonderful journey of inclusive teaching.

A little girl writes with a sensory pen (Strategies for Teaching a Nonverbal Student with Autism)

So, for a bit of background information. Yes, I’m a homeschool momma. However, I’m also a certified special education teacher, and let me tell you, it’s been quite a ride. Recently, I had a reader reach out and ask for some insight into teaching students with disabilities, specifically nonverbal children with autism. We had a wonderful discussion, and that made me realize that this important topic needs a broader platform for discussion! That’s why I’m bringing it to you today. Because let’s face it, we should never be afraid to talk about subjects that can make us better teachers, right?

Now, let’s get one thing straight from the start. Students with disabilities, including those with a gap in language skills, are capable of learning and growing in their faith. It’s our duty and privilege to ensure that they have the opportunity to connect with their God and deepen their understanding of the Bible. So, whether you’re a Bible class teacher, a teacher helper, or simply someone passionate about inclusive education, this post is for you. While we’ll focus on strategies for Bible classes, most of these ideas can be applied in any classroom setting.

Above all, as we embark on this journey, let’s remember to show mercy, patience, and love as we strive to meet a child’s needs. We can’t expect all of our students to fit into the same box. Instead, let’s embrace the diversity and unique needs of each individual, showing them the compassion and understanding that Jesus himself would demonstrate. Together, we can create a safe and nurturing environment where all our students, including those with disabilities, can flourish.

So, my friends, let’s explore some practical strategies that will help you support your special needs students. You don’t have to understand all of the latest teaching theories or characteristics of autism to be a fantastic special needs classroom teacher. I hope this is an enlightening and rewarding adventure, and I’m thrilled to have you by my side. Let’s dive in and grow, one Bible class at a time!

  1. Foster a Welcoming Environment:

Creating a warm and welcoming environment is the foundation for an inclusive Bible class. Here are a few easy ways to foster a sense of belonging for your non-verbal kids:

  • Understand and Embrace Individual Differences: Recognize that each student is unique and may have varying needs and strengths. Take the time to understand your nonverbal student’s individual characteristics, preferences, and communication styles. This understanding will allow you to tailor your approach and create an inclusive learning environment that values diversity.
  • Arrange the classroom layout thoughtfully: Consider the physical space and seating arrangements to minimize distractions and create a calm atmosphere. Provide comfortable seating options and visual boundaries to help your student feel secure.
  1. Utilize Visual Supports:

As mentioned before, visual supports are crucial for non-verbal students as they rely on visual cues to enhance communication and comprehension. Here are some practical ways to integrate supports for visual learners into your Bible class:

  • Visual schedules: Create a visual schedule that outlines the sequence of activities in the class. Use pictures or symbols to represent each task or lesson and guide your nonverbal student through the class period. Quickly review the schedule at the beginning of class. This will take only a minute or so, but it will provide predictability and reduce anxiety. You can use a pocket chart or a whiteboard with Velcro attachments to easily update and modify the schedule as needed.
  • Visual aids for Bible stories: Utilize visual aids such as storyboards, picture cards, or digital presentations to accompany Bible stories. These visuals can help your student follow along, understand the narrative, and engage with the material. Use props to bring the stories to life and encourage your student’s active participation. For example, when discussing the story of Noah’s Ark, provide a small boat for your student to interact with while you retell the story as long as it’s not a distraction. Another great activity is using first-then boards. A first-then board is a visual strategy used to help children understand processes. This strategy displays two pictures. The “first” is often a picture of a non-preferred activity and the “then” is a picture of a preferred activity. The child must do the first before being able to do the second activity. This strategy can also be used for visual storytelling. For example, when retelling the story of the Bible, we could use visuals and a first-then board to show that the period of the “Life of Christ” happened first, then the period of the “Early Church” follows. 
  • Visual cues for behavior expectations: Use visual prompts or cue cards to assist with behavior expectations. For example, create a visual reminder of appropriate classroom behavior, such as raising hands or taking turns during discussions or activities. Use pictures or symbols to represent each behavior and display them prominently in the classroom. Reinforce these expectations consistently and provide positive reinforcement when your student exhibits the desired behavior.
A little boy playing with sensory items as he learns (Strategies for Teaching a Nonverbal Student with Autism)
  1. Embrace Multisensory Approaches:

Engaging your nonverbal student’s senses is an effective way to enhance their understanding and participation. Consider incorporating multisensory activities into your Bible lessons:

  • Hands-on experiences: Provide hands-on materials or manipulatives that allow your student to explore and interact with biblical concepts. Provide sensory objects related to the Bible lesson. For example, create sensory bins with biblical-themed objects or use textured materials such as moon sand or felt to represent different elements of the stories.
  • Sensory-rich storytelling: Bring Bible stories to life by incorporating sensory activities. Use props, costumes, or songs to engage multiple senses. The use of objects can make stories more vivid and memorable. For example, when teaching the story of David and Goliath, encourage your student to use a slingshot to act out the story. 
  • Songs and movement: Sing songs related to Bible stories and encourage your student to participate using simple hand gestures. This can aid memory retention and reinforce engagement. Incorporate action songs like “Father Abraham” to engage your student’s body and mind.
  1. Cultivate a Supportive Learning Environment:

Creating a safe and supportive environment is essential for the well-being and spiritual growth of your nonverbal student. The following strategies are a great way to support learning:

  • Empathy: Practice active listening to understand your student’s knowledge and perspectives. Pay attention to body language and take the time to engage in one-on-one conversations with your student. Allow the non-verbal child to express themselves in their preferred mode of communication, whether it’s through gestures or pictures.
  • Positive reinforcement: Implement a reward system or positive reinforcement strategy to acknowledge and celebrate your student’s achievements and efforts. Offer praise, encouragement, and small rewards as they actively participate and make progress in the Bible class. Create a visual reward chart where your student can earn stickers for demonstrating appropriate behavior or completing tasks. You may even choose to allow them to trade in their earned rewards for small incentives that they find motivating, such as a preferred learning activity.
  • Encourage peer interactions: Foster an environment of acceptance and understanding by promoting interactions among students. Encourage classmates to engage in inclusive activities, such as cooperative learning tasks or buddy systems, which will help foster friendships and create a sense of community. Pair your nonverbal student with a supportive peer who can act as a communication partner and help facilitate social interactions. 
  1. Individualize Instruction:

Recognizing your nonverbal student’s individual needs and strengths is important for their success in the Bible class. Here’s how you can individualize instruction to aid students who have difficulty understanding: 

  • Differentiated materials and activities: Adapt materials, lesson plans, and activities to accommodate your student’s unique needs and abilities. Provide visual supports, simplified instructions, or alternative ways of expression such as drawing or gestures to ensure their active participation. Consider using visual organizers, graphic organizers, or adapted worksheets that cater to different learning styles and preferences. 
  • Breaking down complex concepts: Break down complex Bible concepts and stories into smaller steps and more manageable parts. Use visual aids, hands-on experiences, and repetition to reinforce understanding and make the content more accessible. Chunk information into smaller portions and provide frequent opportunities for review and reinforcement. Use graphic organizers or visual diagrams to help your student organize their thoughts and make connections between different ideas.
  1. Seek Additional Support:

I cannot stress this enough. Recognize when you may need additional assistance in the classroom. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Collaborate with parents: Regularly communicate with parents or caregivers to gain insights into your student’s individual needs, interests, and progress. Share strategies and successes, and work together to develop consistency and reinforce learning between home and Bible class. The parent of a child would likely be happy to provide input and suggestions based on their knowledge of their child’s preferences and strengths.
  • Request a classroom helper: Request the support of a classroom helper who can assist in providing individualized attention and support to your nonverbal student. Having an extra pair of hands can help ensure that your student receives the attention and support they need while allowing you to focus on the overall lesson. The classroom aide can provide additional reinforcement, assist with communication strategies, or help with adapting materials and activities. 

And there you have it, my friends! Teaching a nonverbal student in a Bible class can be a challenge, but you’ve got this! With compassion, understanding, and a commitment to inclusion, we can create a loving environment where all students, regardless of their abilities, can experience spiritual growth and engagement. By implementing the strategies we’ve discussed, you’re not just creating a space for learning, but a space where every student feels supported. So let’s roll up our sleeves, embrace the diversity in our classrooms, and teach our students to shine their light in the world. 

Have you stumbled upon some great strategies that have worked seamlessly in your own Bible classes? Or maybe you’ve got some super cool and unique approaches that we haven’t touched upon here. Well, I’m all ears and excited to hear about them. Share the knowledge!

The best way to contact me is to drop a message below, but you can also reach out through the Contact Me page on my website or connect with me on social media. Sharing our experiences and ideas is what makes this community strong and supportive. Together, we can continue to learn, grow, and make a positive impact on the lives of nonverbal learners and young children overall.

Thank you for being a dedicated Bible class teacher and for embracing the importance of providing an inclusive and nurturing environment for all learners. Keep up the amazing work, and may your classrooms be filled with love, understanding, and the joyful pursuit of knowledge and faith.

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