Children with Aspergers (high functioning autism) will respond quite well to specific classroom adaptations. Here are the recommended methods teachers can employ with their "special needs" students:
- Implement Creative Programming - Through the student’s IEP, educators can develop class schedules which will be motivating and challenging to the student while addressing his/her needs.
- Intervene Early - The earlier intervention begins, the earlier children can learn the needed skills for adulthood and friendship.
- Obtain In-Depth Training - Learn the differences among the kids with Aspergers in elementary, middle school and high school.
- Recognize Children’ Strengths - Many children with Aspergers will go on to make great contributions to society. However, we must tap into their strengths and offer support so that they do not drop out of school because academic and social demands are too high.
- Understand How Social Impairments Impact Learning and Peer Relationships - Some children require weekly sessions with trained staff members who can help them “solve the puzzles” they encounter in everyday activities and help alleviate depression caused by perception of social failure. Provide ongoing social skill instruction to help children form relationships with peers.
Role of Inclusion—
1. Carefully structure seating arrangements and group work. Kids with Aspergers should not be seated near class bullies or aggressive children. Rather, sit them next to children who can serve as a “peer buddy.” See where the youngster works most effectively; near the teacher or near a quiet open space. Avoid self-selection when children are being assigned to a group. Teach children how to function as a team and accept all members.
2. Connect with Each Other, Parents, Internet, and Other Support Groups. To avoid the feelings of many educators and families who feel isolated in their attempts to support children with Aspergers, create regular communication through meetings, telephone or e-mail among inclusion and special education educators and parents. Create a Home School Coordination- Improve the behavior of this student by combining school and home effort. Work on goals that the youngster should meet. Then send home a note indicating if the youngster has met that goal. If s/he has done so, reward him/her (in school and at home if the appropriate behavior is being exhibited there as well).
3. Don’t Take it Personally. Don’t be insulted by the student who interrupts, speaks too loudly or misses your jokes. Separate the youngster from the syndrome (be perturbed with the behavior, but support the youngster) and try to imagine the world as viewed through his eyes. Model warmth and acceptance. Refrain from impatience and irritation so peers will too.
4. Help Your Classroom Become a Caring Environment. Create and maintain your classroom as a safe, supportive and accepting community by expecting and ensuring that all children respect, support and take responsibility for each other. Help create a strong sense of belonging among all the diverse children in your classroom.
5. Prepare for Changes in the Routine. Since most children with Aspergers thrive on clear expectations and routines there are many different methods a teacher can use to help create smooth transitions. Write class schedules and time frames on the blackboard, or use a picture schedule for younger kids. Designate classroom jobs, space and time with certain activities (e.g., computer). Explain changes in the routine well in advance (e.g., “On Thursday, we will have an assembly. That means you go straight from your second period class to the auditorium.”).
6. Promote Positive Peer Interactions. Create ways to connect the student with empathic peers in order to promote social acceptance and friendships. Use role playing and games - Try the program “Magic Circle” where children are seated in a circle and are encouraged to share their feelings and listen to others. This type of activity helps promote active listening skills and recognition of each individual. Help the student engage in successful conversations and reflection by using comic strips, since the pictures, words and symbols identify what the people say and do and emphasize what people may be thinking. Social stories which describe typical social situations and explain the meaning of various comments and identify appropriate responses are also good. Direct the youngster to participate in activities or clubs in which their abilities might neutralize their social deficiencies (e.g., math groups). Make sure they are not involved in groups that are frequented by bullies. Identify the student’s special gifts and teach him/her to share those gifts through tutoring, class presentations, or community service.
7. Provide a Safe Haven. Children with Aspergers can become overwhelmed by noise, crowds, chaos or trying to engage in social interactions (e.g., an assembly, recess time), which can lead to anxiety and stress. Offer an alternative to attending these events. Try earplugs or headphones to assist in screening out troubling noise. Make sure the youngster has a trusted contact person with whom they feel comfortable with (e.g., special education teacher, school psychologist, guidance counselor or principal, older responsible pupil). Give access to a quiet, private place (e.g., school library, tutoring room, empty classroom or office) where the student can spend lunchtime, study hall or any other free time alone, can rest and refresh themselves to alleviate the stress that accompanies the constant effort to fit in.
8. Use Available Resources/ Make Needed Accommodations. Children with Aspergers often respond well to visuals, graphic models and technology. They often have impaired gross or fine motor skills. Encourage the use of computers for written assignments and exams. Allow for extra time or quiet space if needed. When significant amounts of notes need to be taken, pair the student with Aspergers with a buddy in order that the student can photocopy the notes missed. Allow time on the Internet. The effort and anxiety associated with interpersonal connections is greatly reduced because then children only have to deal with the written word. However, limit the amount of time on the computer in order that a potential obsession does not develop and that the computer does not become a substitute for human contact.
Characteristics of Aspergers—
- Cognitive abilities which are average or above average (they are often known as “little professors”)
- Depression, frequent school absences, low school motivation due to being socially vulnerable and easy targets for teasing and bullying
- Difficulties with subjects that require inferential reasoning, abstract concepts, problem solving, extensive calculations or social judgments
- Fine motor problems which lead to poor penmanship and low writing motivation
- Friends and new acquaintances may be acknowledged with tight and enthusiastic hugs instead of formal greetings like “Hi, how are you?”
- Gross motor clumsiness which leads to poor skills in competitive sports and physical activities
- Hypersensitivity to noises or smells
- Lack of emotional reciprocity or empathy
- May begin to talk about the latest topic of concern which is of interest only to themselves (e.g., train schedules), may be age inappropriate or boring but the person does not pick up on looks of disinterest or snickers from the group
- May move into the personal space of others, not recognizing body language, facial and verbal cues that he/she has transgressed
- May not make direct eye contact
- Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
- Rigid and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
- Speech and language peculiarities such as: stilted and formal language, voice too loud or monotone or hyperverbal.
- Stereotyped and repetitive motor movements
Personal Challenges for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder—
Listed below are behaviors that a youngster on the Autistic Spectrum might encounter on a daily basis. Autistic spectrum disorder includes children with conditions such as autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and Aspergers.
• inappropriate use of eye contact, avoidance or extended staring
• little sense of other people’s boundaries
• not accepting hugging, cuddling or touching unless self initiated
• poor use of nonverbal gestures
• trouble with back and forth social interactions
• wanting to be left alone at times
Interest and Activities:
• defensive to touch which isn’t self initiated
• difficulty waiting
• history of eating problems
• lack of fear or real danger
• lining up and or/ ordering objects
• pacing or running back and forth, round and round
• repeatedly watching videos or video segments
• resisting change
• strong attachment to inanimate objects
• very sensitive to sounds
Qualitative Impairments in Communication:
• difficulty understanding abstract concepts
• problem understanding jokes
• problem with getting the order of words in sentences correct
• problems answering questions
• problems using speed, tone and volume appropriately
• problems with reciprocal conversations
• delayed response time
• good visual skills
• needs help to problem solve
• problems organizing
• short attention span to some activities and not others
• well developed long term memory
Observable Problems Behaviors:
• aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, pinching
• low motivation
• temper tantrums
• toileting problems
• motor planning- can’t make body do what it needs to do
• tired easily
Environmental Challenges that Lower Ability to Function Competently—
- not being understood
- not understanding
- not having choices
- making a mistake
- being touched
- alterations in school, work, home, community
- time changes
- staff or teacher absent
- cancellation of event or activity
- having to wait too long
- not having enough space
- losing things of value
- surrounded by too much movement
- surrounded by too much visual stimuli
- being corrected
- being denied
- being late
- being ignored
- being left out
- being teased
- being scolded
- reacts to unexpected sound
- fears some noises
- making self induced noises
- confused about direction of sound
- distracted by certain sounds
- has been diagnosed as having a visual problem
- is sensitive to light
- has difficulty tracking
- upset by things looking different
- closely examines objects or hands
- sensitive to smells
- explores environment by smelling
- reacts strongly to some smells
- ignores strong odors
- defensive about being touched
- prefers deep touching rather than soft
- dislikes feel of certain clothing
- over or under dresses for temperature
- upset by sticky, gooey hands
- has an eating problem
- dislikes certain textures or foods
- tastes non-edibles
- seems fearful in space
- arches back when held or moved
- likes rocking, swinging, spinning
- avoids balancing activities
- has difficulty with time perception
- problems with use of some tools
- difficulty with body in space
- relies on knowing location of furniture
Social Skills which may be Personal Challenges—
Personal Management/Self Control:
- finishing work
- taking care of belongings
- turning in assignments on time
- changing activities
- accepting correction
- taking turns
- offering help, comfort
- inviting others to join
- asking for a favor
- letting someone know you are hurt or sick
Reciprocating Social Interactions Appropriately:
- commenting on a topic
- answering questions
- accepting help
- responding to teasing
- making a choice
- giving eye contact appropriately
Manner of Interaction:
- being polite
- being kind
- being considerate
- being honest
- not walking away when someone is talking
Abstract Social Concepts:
- being good
- come when called to a group
- stay in certain places
- participate with group
- follow group rules
- winning and losing
- pick up, clean up, straighten up
Effective Behavior Interventions of Problem Behaviors–
What makes Aspies do what we do?
- Biological Influences
- Instructional/ Reinforcement History
- Setting /Events
- Stimulus Events
In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors, educators (and parents) need to take into consideration a variety of aspects.
1. Hypothesize the function of the behavior
• Social Attention
• Escape/ avoidance
• Wants tangible item or activity
• Sensory Feedback
2. Gather Information
a. Antecedent : Does the behavior occur……
- When you are attending to other people in the room?
- Following a request to perform a difficult task?
- When a request for an item or activity is denied?
- Repeatedly, in the same way, for long periods of time, even when no on is around?
b. Consequence: When the behavior occurs, do others….
- Attend to the student?
- Leave the student alone?
- Negotiate or give the desired item/activity
- Allow the student to engage in inappropriate behavior?
3. Plan an Intervention
a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed?
- Move student closer to teacher.
- Limit materials available to student.
- Remove distracters.
b. Based on information gathered, determine how people should react to the challenging behavior each time it occurs.
- Plan to ignore.
- Plan to attend.
- Plan to remove privileges.
- Plan to redirect.
4. Identify a Replacement Behavior
a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the challenging behavior?
- Manipulating a stress ball or twist pen to replace inappropriate hand movements
- Teaching the student to ask if he can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior
- Teaching student to raise his hand to replace attention-seeking behaviors
- Teaching the student to communicate his wants appropriately to replace escape/ avoidance behaviors
b. Complete replacement behavior planning guide with team…
- Which behavior is the team going to target for replacement?
- What functionally equivalent behavior is the team going to train in place of the problem behavior?
- In what situations will training occur?
- Who will be responsible for conducting the training sessions?
- What motivation system will be implemented during training?
- Describe how the team will evaluate if and how the student uses the new response.
Promoting Positive Classroom Behavior of Children—
The suggestions written below can be used to help kids with Aspergers but can be used in any classroom to help promote a positive atmosphere.
a) Rules - Establish, teach and enforce classroom rules. Rules should be positively stated and identify the specific behaviors you wish to see displayed
b) Premack Principle - Method of maintaining and increasing compliance with rules through the use of positive reinforcement. A desired activity is available to children on the completion of an undesired activity (e.g., a student who stays in their seat for a period of time can earn an opportunity to work on the computer).
c) Contingency Contracts - Children and educators formalize agreements concerning specific behavior for the exchange of reinforcers by writing an agreement. It outlines the behaviors and consequences of a specific behavior management system. (See the link on this site titled "Contracts")
d) Self-Recording - The student monitors his or her own behaviors by using a data collection system. Children can be taught to increase their on task behavior during a class by placing a + in a box when they are paying attention for several minutes and a -–if they are off task.
e) Self-Evaluation - A self-management system that has been used to promote appropriate behavior in many general education programs. Children are taught to evaluate their in class behavior using a rating scale. For example, a student can rate his on task and disruptive behaviors using a 0-5 point rating scale ("unacceptable" to "excellent"). The student earns points (which can be exchanged for reinforcers) based on both student behavior and the accuracy of his ratings.
Ways to Decrease Inappropriate Classroom Behaviors –
Listed below are various ways to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate ones for kids with Aspergers.
- Redirection - Introduce a novel stimulus to recapture the student’s attention by delivering verbal and nonverbal cues to the student to stop misbehavior, offering assistance with a task, engaging him/her in conversation, reminding him/her to focus attention on the task, or modeling calm and controlled behavior.
- Interspersed Requests - Used to motivate children to perform a difficult or unpleasant task by initially asking them to perform several easier tasks, which they can complete successfully in a short amount of time. This helps promote “behavioral momentum”.
- Differential Reinforcement - Techniques used to decrease inappropriate behaviors by reinforcing the occurrence of positive behaviors, which cannot coexist with the appropriate behavior. (See the link on this site titled "Differential Reinforcement")
- Extinction - A strategy in which the positive reinforcers maintaining a behavior are withheld or terminated, resulting in the reduction in the behavior. (See the link on this site titled "What is ABA" ---then read about 'Ignoring')
- Checklists and Schedules - Provide visual structure and motivation needed to complete assignments and remain on task by checking off assignments and activities upon their completion.
Adaptation of Oral Presentations/Lectures for Children—
Some children require modifications to be made in order for them to understand what is being taught. There are various types of adaptations. Listed below are a few which can be used to help any student achieve to their highest potential:
Pausing - to help children retain lecture content pause for 2 minutes every 5-7 consecutive minutes of lecturing. During the pause children can discuss and review content, ask questions or engage in visual imagery.
Visual Aids - Visual supports such as charts, graphs, lists and pictures can be used to highlight main points, maintain attention, promote eye contact and address the needs of visual learners.
Guided Notes - Outlined and guided notes in which the student fills in the blanks provide a foundation for note taking, and promotes on task behavior. Since many kids with Aspergers have difficulty with fine motor skills such as writing, this is a method that can be implemented to help them throughout lectures.
Active Student Responding (To encourage active participation) choral responding- in which children answer simultaneously on a cue from a teacher during fast paced lessons.
Response Cards - cards are simultaneously held up by all children to display their responses to questions or problems presented by the teacher
Cooperative Learning Groups/ Peer Tutoring - helps with social interaction
- Use repetition by asking children to answer the same questions several times during a class period.
- Reinforce correct responses and appropriate behavior with descriptive statements that identify what made the answer "right".
- Group student with peers who participate and attend.
- Select children randomly to respond and remind them that they may be called on next
- Change activities frequently
- Vary the presentation and response modes of instructional activities.
- Decrease the complexity and syntax of statements.
Affective Education Strategies to Implement in Any Classroom—
Rapport - Maintaining rapport with children can help establish a positive classroom environment. Educators can establish rapport by talking to children about topics in which they are interested, sharing their own interests, providing opportunities for children to perform activities in which they excel, and complimenting children.
Humor - Good natured joking helps develop a good relationships and a positive classroom atmosphere. Humor helps children see a situation from another perspective and decreases the likelihood of conflicts.
Dialoguing - Dialoging involves meeting with the children to assist them in identifying the problem, discovering their perspective on that problem, phrase it in their words, and discussing solutions for resolving the problem. It helps children understand their behaviors and problem solve alternatives to inappropriate behaviors.
The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism