Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Asperger’s Kids in the Classroom: Crucial Tips for Teachers

Tips for Teachers with Students on the Autism Spectrum

Social Aspects—

Students with Aspergers (high functioning autism) may fall anywhere in the continuum between 'withdrawn' and 'active but odd'. Aspergers children want to communicate with their peers but lack the ability to do so. Aspergers children do not understand what people are feeling or thinking and cannot empathize with them. When asked to imagine themselves in a particular situation they experience great difficulty and cannot role-play. There is a lack of understanding of body language and social conventions and they have great difficulty in making and sustaining friendships.

Because of this Aspergers children miss out on many aspects of teenage culture and, for example, may have no knowledge of 'pop' music, football, fashion etc. Therefore when such topics are used to stimulate interest in examination questions they can be at a disadvantage.

Aspergers children have no appreciation of personal space and get too close to people. This, combined with inappropriate body language can be misinterpreted by others as threatening behavior.

Aspergers children find it difficult to work in pairs or as part of a team or to participate normally in classroom discussions, and need direct teaching. Because of their desire for friendship Aspergers children can be very vulnerable and easily persuaded to do things without being aware of the consequences.

Disruptive behavior such as self-directed injury, tantrums and aggression is thought to be the result of communication difficulties but the teacher in the classroom may be concerned for the safety of other students and restrict the use of certain equipment in practical lessons and participation in outside activities. Hence the student with Aspergers may have had a narrower educational experience than his or her fellows.

Communication Difficulties—

Most of the social difficulties described are the result of communication problems. Syntax and grammar are rarely a problem but there is often a non-productive, pedantic, literal use and understanding of language (Jordan, undated). Speech may be flat and 'robot-like', and possibly accompanied by distracting gestures such as body swaying or grimacing.

Aspergers children try to understand what the words mean rather than what the speaker means and may be confused by idioms and metaphors.

A question such as 'can you tell me the names of ?' is likely to be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'.

Aspergers children tend to find the written word easier to understand than the spoken. Some may be able to read mechanically beyond the level of their understanding (hyperlexia). Their writing shows a rigidity of thought and Aspergers children often produce learned patterns of phrasing in answers to examination questions.

Orally Aspergers children can be very boring because Aspergers children spell out everything in great detail or because of their preoccupation with a particular interest or topic. Aspergers children cannot build on what others say, have poor topic maintenance and are unlikely to make appropriate eye contact.


It is not uncommon for these kids to have had delayed milestones in their motor development and for clumsiness to persist into adulthood. Both fine and gross motor skills are involved and their performance in practical classes and in sport will be affected.

The arrangement of written work is often poor with deeply marked crossing out. Handwriting varies from being very small and almost illegible to being large with poorly formed letters which overlap the lines.

Stress and the Environment—

Kids with Aspergers are perceived to be intolerant of individuals as well as the environment. Aspergers children become very anxious in unstructured settings and where people are moving at random. Aspergers children may not be able to tolerate people close to them (although they may take up this position themselves). Noise, whether it is sudden or it comes from general background activity, can cause acute stress, fear and even panic and at the very least the student will be distracted and unable to concentrate. Factors causing stress are very individual although all find alterations to routines very disturbing and have difficulty in making choices.

Some respond to stress by antisocial behavior - repeated swearing is not uncommon - and others have to remove themselves physically from the situation. A quiet environment, free from distractions and where rules are followed rigidly can do much to help them concentrate.

Carrying an object can give them a sense of security. The nature of this can seem quite bizarre to others (e.g. a cat's eye from the road) but without it Aspergers children are unable to settle or concentrate. Some derive comfort from repeating a set ritual of some kind and it can be long and complex.

It goes without saying that the ritual, however time-consuming, will have to be carried out in an examination situation and the comfort object allowed to be present if the student is to be able to cope with the stress of taking the examination.

Intellectual Functioning—

Verbal ability tends to be stronger than non-verbal and this results in uneven attainment across the breadth of the curriculum. This is reflected in examination results and also within subject papers. The student may be able to do exceptionally well recalling facts or applying well practiced methods but may score poorly or not at all when asked to imagine a situation or to comment on the nuances of a fictional text.

Some show 'islets of great ability'. These are usually confined to one subject and may be in a limited area of that subject but the young person displays an insight and a knowledge way beyond others in their age group. Often this is linked to their main interest or obsession.

Obsessional Interests—

Obsessional interests tend to dominate the thinking and much of the life of many students with Aspergers. Sometimes these change abruptly but many persist for years and perhaps for life. Aspergers children become very knowledgeable about their interest and go to extreme lengths to pursue it. In an examination, whether written or oral the student will tend to see everything in terms of this interest and bring it in to all answers. It will tend to take over and the student will wander off the point of the question and not know when to stop.

Special Arrangements for Examinations—

1. The examination room: There may be a request for the student to be invigilated separately because:
  • it would give the student a less stressful setting where s/he could concentrate without what for him/her are overwhelming distractions
  • the student can move around if this is helpful in relieving undue stress
  • the student would not distract others by his or her ritualistic behavior or by extraneous movements and noises which are beyond his or her control

There may be a request that a 'comfort' object is allowed in the examination room.

2. Extra time: It is noted that the information booklet issued by The National Autistic Society recommends to teachers and parents that a request for extra time should be made to examining boards because they (people with autism) find it hard working to a time limit.

While working to a time limit may cause excessive stress to some students, it could be counterproductive to others who would feel that they had to keep writing even if they had completed their answers.

3. Presentation of examination papers: There may be a request that the question paper is presented on plain paper and in one color because the student finds a range of colors confusing.

4. Use of language in question papers: There may be a request that carrier language of questions is modified to be as clear as possible. This would be similar to the request made for congenitally deaf students who also need clear, unambiguous instructions and an avoidance of abstract ideas, except when understanding such ideas is part of the assessment.

5. Prompting of the student when it is time to move on to the next question: This may be requested because of the student's obsessional behavior which may cause him or her to keep writing on a particular topic, totally unaware of the passage of time. S/he may have been used to being 'moved on' in class and such prompting is allowed in examination conditions (see the GCSE Advisory Notes on the Use of Prompters).

6. Word-processing and handwriting: If a student's writing is illegible or if motor control is so impaired that handwriting is difficult or excessively slow, word-processing may be the usual method of written communication in class and may be requested for examinations. Alternatively there may be a request that the student be exempt from the assessment for handwriting, etc. The center may require advice on this point as the student's grammar and spelling should not be affected.

7. Request that the answer papers are scrutinized at some point by someone aware that the student has Aspergers and who is familiar with the condition. There could be a number of reasons for this including:
  • the possible use of bad language or other expletives which may be triggered by a distraction or because excessive feelings have been aroused in response to the question. Using bad language in this way is beyond the control of the student and is not an attempt to shock or be rude to the examiner
  • the language used and the obsessional content of the answer
  • the general appearance of the paper including diagrams and labeling, etc

8. Oral tests: It would be very difficult for anyone to conduct an oral test with a student with Aspergers without being apprised of the situation and of the particular behavior and difficulties of the student. Indeed, examiners might feel threatened by the student unless they were aware of the condition. Examiners should be made aware that the student may display some of the following behavior:
  • avoiding eye contact and possibly writhing, twisting, swaying and walking around during the interview
  • echoing questions, even to the extent of copying the voice and accent - it is not rudeness but a lack of understanding and a variation of wording might assist the situation
  • failing to understand abstract ideas and taking jokes, exaggerations and metaphors literally
  • getting too close to the examiner
  • he or she will not have had the usual day to day experience of life. This particularly applies to relationships and doing things with the peer group: for example, he might not be able to respond to a question about what a student did with his friends at the weekend because he would not perceive himself as having any friends
  • making inappropriate, over-familiar or over-formal remarks
  • not understanding body language
  • stilted speech, unless the topic is the obsessional interest and in which case it will be hard to stop or divert the conversation to another subject

 The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism


Claudia said...

I am a grandmother of a 10 year old boy diagnosed with Aspergers. He also has high anxiety and sensory problems. This year at school my daughter had a very difficult time with the teachers and most of the school personnel. They put her down saying her son was just pushing her buttons and worst of all they just wouldn't accept Dylons problems. He was so traumatized the last two weeks of school, that he even ran off from the school grounds one day and walked home. We just don't know where to turn for help. So now they have moved to a different town so Dylon can go to a different school. We have word they have a better program. We hope.

Anonymous said...

Hi Claudia,

If it is an option to you, you can also homeschool. We originally were not open to that idea but we went to an open house to learn more and realized that we had many misconceptions. We tried it for a year and it was a blessing. His self esteem improved his anxiety was reduced and he received academic awards. Aspy's can learn easier with a TECH style of learning (like with computers). We went through k-12 program, everything was free. The program sent us a computer, printer and curriculum. He has a teacher and takes all of his state required assessments. You can receive an intervention specialist for testing. Anyway, we went through several school changes and it was a very stressful and painful process. I hope your situation is better at a new school. Best of luck to you

Rebecca Peak said...

AI would like more information on homeschool for my grandson who has aspergers autism. he is haveing lots of trouble with school. I need to find out how to homeschool and where to get info. thank you

Myeisha Massie said...

Hello. What is the name of the school that your child did at home?

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