Throughout this article, Jim Dilmon, a young man with Aspergers (AS) shares with us his experiences taking physical education in a generalized education setting. Jim, who is now 25 years old, attended a large public high school in New York. He recently graduated from college and is a teacher in a public school.
I was diagnosed with Aspergers when I was 9 years old. Since that time, I have received many educational and social interventions. My experiences have been numerous, some good and some bad. School was tough at times, especially when social interactions came into play. One of the toughest areas for me was physical education. Here, I was bullied, ridiculed, and forced to face up to some of my biggest fears. My experiences in physical education (PE) were mostly negative.
The negativity relates to the fact that most tasks in PE were difficult for me; and when I attempted them, my educators were unsupportive and my peers made fun of me. Things were made even more difficult for me because my parents had serious concerns about my ability to participate in a general education PE class. Most of their concerns were related to teasing, dressing out, and my physical clumsiness. Unfortunately, their concerns were well founded in that I experienced a multitude of problems related to them.
Including kids with ASPERGERS in general education classes, in particular, physical education classes, is no longer an uncommon occurrence. More and more kids with disabilities take physical education alongside typically developing kids. Many physical educators teach kids with ASPERGERS although they may have little knowledge about:
• The instructional implications and recommendations for instruction that can serve as a guideline for determining individualized modifications and accommodations.
• The behavioral and emotional characteristics, social and peer interactions, academic and cognitive functions, and physical and motor development in kids with ASPERGERS in relation to the physical education setting.
Understanding the specific characteristics of students like Jim can help educators create a supportive physical education environment for individuals with ASPERGERS.
"Once a rare diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now more prevalent than childhood cancer, diabetes, and Down syndrome; it is the second most common serious developmental disability after mental retardation and intellectual impairment" (Metzger & Simpson, 2008, p. 4). ASPERGERS appears on the autism spectrum and is often called high-functioning autism. This terminology often leads to misunderstandings or misconceptions about the characteristics of kids with ASPERGERS. Educators often misinterpret the "high functioning" and fail to recognize that ASPERGERS is a lifelong serious disability. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act data (2006) indicate that between 1997 and 2006, the number of kids with autism in public special education programs increased from 42,517 to 224,584. That alarming increase has created a need to disseminate information about ASPERGERS to educators who are involved in making instructional decisions.
The most frequently identified characteristics of ASPERGERS that directly affect kids in an educational setting are the impairments that directly relate to the individual's social, emotional, and adaptive functioning. Specifically, Church, Alisanski, and Amanullah (2000, p. 12) define ASPERGERS as "a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and emotional relatedness and by unusual patterns of narrow interests and unique stereotyped behavior." The Diagnostic and Statistical Marmai of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR; APA, 2000) expands on the characteristics of ASPERGERS and identifies the specific features of ASPERGERS that may affect a student's ability to adapt to the physical education setting. Physical educators may find that "motor clumsiness, overactivity, inattention, and emotional problems such as depression" (Safran, Safran, & Ellis, 2003, p. 155) affect their ability to instruct kids with ASPERGERS in the general physical education setting.
Implications in the Physical Education Setting—
I found that many of the PE classes I had consisted of simply playing games and in my opinion, had no real educational value. However, on the positive side, I had a fantastic physical education teacher at the private elementary school I attended. She was aware of my disability and worked with my mom to motivate me and remained very positive throughout all of my struggles. She also had no tolerance for teasing in her class, so I knew well that if I messed up I wouldn't get laughed at. In that environment, I did very well, I tried so hard and I had so much fun that I wanted to play the games and learn how to perform better!
Successfully educating kids with ASPERGERS involves a deeper understanding of the disability and the implications for how the youngster's disability may directly affect his or her ability to participate to the fullest extent possible in the physical education setting. When developing instructional programs for kids with ASPERGERS in the physical education environment, educators should examine emotional and behavioral characteristics, academic and cognitive functioning, physical and gross motor development, and social deficits in relation to peer interactions. Embedded within these areas may be such elements as language and speech delays, social skills deficits, and teasing and bullying issues.
Educators must examine all these aspects when educating any youngster, but they must pay special attention to them when educating kids with ASPERGERS in inclusive settings. Understanding how the student's specific disability can affect her or his success in the program and how it affects the development of instructional modifications is extremely important. A youngster with ASPERGERS has different needs and requirements than typically developing students within the same setting.
Emotional and Behavioral Characteristics—
Individuals with ASPERGERS demonstrate a wide variety of behavioral characteristics. In educational settings, they experience anxiety, depression, aggression, and hyperactivity because of frustration during the learning process (Griffin, Griffin, Fitch, Albera, & Gingras, 2006). They also display a limited number of interests, which can lead to a strong preoccupation with sameness. This sameness can cause a predisposition to obsessive routines, repetitive rituals, and difficulty when transitioning (Groft & Block, 2003). Observers can see the predisposition to sameness in behavior rigidity, since this rigidity affects both the thoughts and behavior of a person with ASPERGERS. "Novel situations often produce anxiety for these kids. They may be uncomfortable with change in general. This can result in behavior that may be viewed as oppositional and can lead to emotional meltdowns" (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007). Furthermore, many kids with ASPERGERS become enamored with a topic that is relevant to their peers but do so to the point of excluding other topics (Myles & Simpson, 2002).
One main area of concern for kids with ASPERGERS in regard to behavior is "socially inappropriate behavior stemming from lack of social understanding that can range from simply annoying to highly disruptive behaviors" (Safran et al., 2003, p. 159). Unfortunately, most kids with ASPERGERS have difficulty communicating their emotional state or understanding the emotional states of others. This inability further exacerbates socially inappropriate behaviors. On an emotional level, students with ASPERGERS have difficulty accepting that they make mistakes and become easily stressed because of their inflexibility. They also tend to have lower self-esteem than same-aged peers. Such vulnerabilities may lead them to become targets for bullying and teasing.
Physical educators must actively participate in programs for preventing bullying and must employ various strategies within the physical education setting. However, to be effective, all educators should employ the same strategies across all academic settings. The physical educator should work closely with other members of the individualized education program (IEP) team to achieve this goal. Through effective collaboration, all educators can be consistent with the goals related to preventing bullying and the strategies necessary to achieve those goals. Heinrichs (2003) lists several strategies that educators can use to prevent bullying, including talking with students about bullying, being proactive, telling students to report situations, modeling appropriate behavior, being consistent in handling situations in which bullying takes place, and focusing on the needs of students with exceptionalities.
Another identified area of concern is negative behavioral outbursts. "Negative behavioral outbursts are most frequently related to frustration, being thwarted, or difficulties in compliance when a particularly rigid response pattern has been challenged or interrupted" (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007, p. 20). Common displays when the youngster becomes frustrated or is having difficulty include vocal outbursts and shrieking. Educators frequently overlook the underlying antecedent when they address the vocal outburst. When a youngster with ASPERGERS does engage in a specific behavior problem, he or she may be experiencing feelings of stress or a lack of control (Elder, Caterino, Chao, Shacknai, & De Simone, 2006). In addition, kids with ASPERGERS exhibit a high incidence of attention issues. Many individuals with ASPERGERS have difficulty determining those elements in their environments to which they should attend, so they attend to the wrong issues. Some kids with ASPERGERS receive a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a coexisting condition.
Instructional Implications of Emotional and Behavioral Characteristics—
Kids with ASPERGERS may have difficulty in the physical education setting because of the behavioral characteristics of the disorder. Educators must consider this factor when planning for and delivering instruction. They can use the following strategies in the physical education setting to reduce high levels of frustration in students with ASPERGERS:
• Collaborate with the youngster's classroom educators: Collaboration with colleagues allows the physical educator to be consistent in the way that she or he interacts with and instructs the youngster. The physical educator can then adopt the same type of behavior management system for the youngster with ASPERGERS that other educators are using throughout the youngster's day (Auxter et al., 2005).
• Document individual progress: The physical educator can use effective data collection to monitor the behavioral progress of the youngster. The information obtained through effective data collection is a valuable tool in developing IEP objectives and determining specific skill deficits.
• Establish clear rules and consequences: The use of clear rules and consequences helps provide a more predictable environment for the youngster with ASPERGERS (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007).
• Limit unstructured time: The most difficult time in the physical education classroom is unstructured time (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007). If unstructured time exists, furnish more structure by directing students to work in their own areas of interest. Simply instructing students in activities that reinforce their areas of interest encourages and motivates them to be more active (Auxter et al., 2005).
• Provide a private/personal area: One way to deescalate frustration is to allow the youngster to use "a quiet or alone spot" so that she or he can compose herself or himself or think through an activity. In the gym, physical educators have limited spaces that provide reduced noise levels or are less stimulating. However, the perimeter of the gym is more desirable than the center. If a youngster needs to regain control of his or her behavior and the distractions within the gymnasium are hindering his or her ability to so, a physical educator can consider placing a beanbag chair just inside the office (Auxter et al., 2005). Regardless of the designated area, the student should always be within the view of the physical educator.
• Provide a visual schedule: Many kids with autism or ASPERGERS benefit from using visual schedules. A visual schedule serves as a cue to the youngster about upcoming activities (Griffin et al., 2006).
• Provide exercise and activities on the basis of individual interests: Building on the interests of the learner can serve as a motivator and bring meaning to the activity for the learner (Auxter, Pyfer, & Huettig, 2005).
• Provide predictability: The physical educator should keep her or his interactions with the youngster predictable. For example, a physical educator can plan the same warm-up procedures every day and give the youngster advance notice about activities planned for that day (Menear & Smith, 2008). "Insistence on sameness can be helped through providing a predictable environment, avoiding surprises, and telling students about changes as soon as possible" (Griffin el al.. 2006, p. 153).
• Use consistent reinforcement systems: Reinforce appropriate social interactions and skill performance with a consistent behavior management system. This system can include internal and external reinforcers. Physical educators should reinforce appropriate social interactions, as well as reinforcing learners for meeting classroom expectations.
• Use simplistic and literal rules for all kids to understand and follow.
The physical education setting often includes a greater number of kids than the typical number in the general academic setting. This increased number of kids may result in higher than average noise levels. Modifying the physical environment can reduce the onset of a behavioral outburst in a youngster with ASPERGERS. The following are examples of ways to modify the environment:
• Encourage and reward progress and achievement by using verbal praise (Grofl & Block, 2003).
• Limit visual distractions: Reducing the number of visual distractions helps students with ASPERGERS maintain focus on the delivery of instruction.
• Maintain routines: Routines should include "sameness" in activities, including using the same equipment and the same class organization (Auxter et al., 2005).
• Organize space and materials: Educators can organize the physical structure of the classroom to decrease anxiety levels in kids with ASPERGERS. For example, clearly labeling materials and the location of the activities helps ensure that the structures within this environment are consistent (Griffin et al., 2006).
• Reduce excessive noise: Use nonverbal signals to reinforce appropriate noise levels, including the intensity and pitch of vocalizations. Examples of nonverbal signals to reinforce appropriate noise levels include colored light systems, hand signals, or pictorial cues. In addition, minimize background noises and fluorescent lighting because many students with ASPERGERS have heightened sensitivities to these elements (Auxter et al., 2005).
• Self-monitor: Although physical education educators rarely use self-monitoring, it increases participation and promotes independence (Todd & Reid, 2006).
• Simplify the task: If the learner is misbehaving while attempting a task, he or she may be frustrated. Simplifying the task may therefore enable the learner to succeed and simultaneously reduce inappropriate behaviors. Performing a task analysis on the specific skill can enable the physical educator to break the larger task into smaller components that he or she can teach independently yet in sequence.
• Use nonverbal visual cues to accompany auditory messages: These cues, in turn, can help students refocus attention to the task (Henderson, 2001).
Academic and Cognitive Functioning—
The academic and cognitive characteristics of kids with ASPERGERS vary. Many kids with ASPERGERS receive their education in the general education classroom, as well as in the general physical education setting. The intelligence of most kids with ASPERGERS ranges from average to above average. The intelligence range of kids with ASPERGERS can be quite deceiving because many educators do not realize that kids with ASPERGERS generally experience difficulty in the classroom primarily when it "arises because of literal thinking styles, inflexibility, poor problem-solving skills, poor organizational skills, and difficulty discriminating important information" (Griffin et al., 2006).
Myles et al. (2002) reported on academic strengths and weaknesses of kids with ASPERGERS and revealed that these kids are strong in oral expression and reading recognition but weak in written expression, comprehending verbal information, and math scores for problem solving and critical thinking. As previously indicated, comprehending verbal information can pose a problem for kids with ASPERGERS. When educators furnish specific instructions, students with ASPERGERS may take the directions literally or may not be able to respond to the request as rapidly as typically developing kids can.
Instructional Implications for Academic and Cognitive Functioning—
One of the biggest problems that I faced was that I thought I was doing what I was supposed to and that I had very little challenges. It wasn't until junior high that kids in my class and my coaches seemed to see me as lacking skills. This is when I was awakened to my lack of progress and the challenge I had.
Many individuals with ASPERGERS have difficulty with abstract thinking, which can create problems in comprehension. Safran et al. (2003) indicate that kids with ASPERGERS may be able to verbalize concepts that they actually do not comprehend and that educators should assist in encouraging the kids to ask for help. Physical educators should also be aware that many students with ASPERGERS often "mask" clear understanding of concepts being presented. Although their memorization skills may be exceptional, their comprehension of the skills may be limited. Educators need to address this deficit in advanced comprehension and abstract reasoning when planning instruction.
In addition, although kids with ASPERGERS are typically of average or above average intelligence, the way that they process information differs from that of their peers. Skills that require a large amount of information to process or that require a planned form of execution are often difficult to perform as well (Renner, Klinger, & Klinger, 2000). Ways to address the cognitive and academic deficits include:
• Give small amounts of instruction at a time and reduce the number of activity requirements (Griffin et al., 2006).
• Limit the number of ways to perform a skill: When the student can perform an activity or skill in many different ways, giving the youngster only a few options may be appropriate. For example, if the physical education teacher tells students to move from one area of the gym to another by using a locomotor skill of their choice, the teacher may offer a few suggestions from which all kids may choose.
• Present skill-based activities in multiple modalities: Instructional techniques that have proved effective for kids with ASPERGERS include video modeling, social stories, graphics, and demonstrations (Auxter et al., 2005).
• Provide academic challenges: To increase the self-esteem or self-confidence of a youngster with ASPERGERS, a physical educator can furnish academic challenges. Academic challenges should link directly to the activity being performed and may focus on a youngster's specific strength (Groft & Block, 2003). For example, if a youngster with ASPERGERS shows strength in mathematics, the physical education teacher can highlight this strength while students are practicing shooting basketballs in the gym. After shooting baskets for a specified time, the teacher may ask students to calculate the percentage of baskets made during the time allowed. "Capitalizing on the learners' excellent memory skills" (Auxter et al., 2005) is another way to compensate for cognitive deficits.
• Provide choices: Motivate a student with ASPERGERS to participate in physical activity by matching her or his interests and abilities to activities. Then allow the student to gain control over decisions by offering choices between two predetermined activities.
• Provide instruction that is simple and concrete: For example, instead of telling a youngster to proceed through an obstacle course, identify the order in which he or she is to proceed. In addition, "educators should not assume that a student with ASPERGERS understands the goal of the lesson, ft is important that educators explicitly state the concept that is being taught and the importance of each learning activity" (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007, p. 103).
• Reduce complex steps in an activity or skill.
• Use explicit language: Many kids with ASPERGERS do not understand the use of expressions or figurative speech and try to apply their own interpretations. Educators who understand the complexity of language and are aware that many kids with ASPERGERS find figurative language difficult to comprehend should focus on their own means of communicating directions and instructions (Groft & Block, 2003). For example, a clearer way to tell students to "put your hand in the basket when shooting a basketball" is "reach out as far as you can and pretend to put your hand in the basket when shooting the basketball."
Physical and Gross Motor Development—
My lack of coordination, clumsiness, poor gait, and lack of motivation has always been a hindrance to my participation and enjoyment of physical activity. During most of my time at school, I viewed PE as the worst part of the day. During the worse times, I would avoid trying new things and I would say or do anything to get out of PE. In the upper grades when recess was out and PE was separate, 1 had to interact with males. This was harder because we are much more competitive and critical of each other's physical characteristics and abilities. Now, I try to remind myself of the benefits of exercise. It helps if I am in a more private environment also.
It is uncommon for kids with ASPERGERS to possess highly athletic motor skills because they rarely display general gross motor precocity (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007). "Educators and researchers are more and more recognizing that motor functioning is a deficit area for kids with autism" (Todd & Reid, 2006, p. 167). Individuals with autism typically have low fitness and low activity levels (Todd & Reid). In addition, the fitness level for this population is lower than that of the general population (Gillispie, 2003).
Researchers agree that this problem occurs because of the high incidence of individuals with intellectual disabilities who have a sedentary lifestyle (Draheim. Williams, & McCubbin, 2002). Adolescents with ASD are significantly less active than typically developing kids, and few engage in extracurricular activities. Clearly, promoting physical activity in this population is of high importance; however, because of the challenges that individuals with ASPERGERS face, encouraging them to be physically active at acceptable levels and within acceptable timeframes may be difficult. Specifically, motor skill deficits may hinder successful participation in physical education classes if educators do not address these deficits through effective intervention plans.
Although not all kids with ASPERGERS have identical characteristics, they generally have difficulty with tasks requiring balance and coordination and often display a generalized muscular weakness, called hypertonia, which affects posture, movement, strength, and coordination (Kurtz, 2008). Other kids with ASPERGERS may have difficulty judging distance, height, and depth or may engage in self-stimulatory behaviors (Silverman & Weinfeld, 2007). Kids with ASPERGERS may also have problems with manual dexterity. They often have impaired dynamic balance, or an inability to perform rapid, alternating movements (Hooper, Poon, Marcos, & Fine, 2006). An inability or immature ability to alternate hand and limb movements can directly affect a student's ability to fully participate in physical activities that involve such skills.
A common impairment for individuals with ASPERGERS is developmental coordination disorder (DCC). DCC often coexists with Aspergers (Elder et ah, 2006). DCC appears to be a problem involving the cortical process of motor planning (Kurtz, 2008). Common deficits that kids with this disorder experience include clumsiness and abnormal gait patterns, as well as fine-motor skill deficiencies (Tantam, 1998). Behaviors attributable to these deficits include difficulty riding a bike, playing ball games, throwing, catching, and kicking (Attwood, 1998). Not only do these physical challenges lead to problems participating in physical education, but they can also lead to social integration problems in adolescents with ASPERGERS (World Health Organization, 2007).
A relatively new area of interest among researchers is the coexistence of sensory integration disorder in individuals with ASPERGERS. Kids with ASPERGERS often have heightened sensitivity to tastes, smells, sounds, and sights and may display tactile sensitivity. Avoidance of touch, pressure, warmth, and other contributing factors can foster avoidance in participating in specific games or activities. Oversensitivity to sound can also affect routines and procedures, especially in situations in which a coach or teacher uses a whistle or bell. Physical educators should be sensitive to a student's sensory needs; they can modify or adapt group-designed activities, for example, they can use verbal signals instead of using a whistle.
Instructional Implications for Physical and Gross Motor Development—
Physical educators are well-versed in techniques related to teaching physical education to typically developing kids, but they have varying degrees of education and experience instructing kids with special needs in general physical education classes. Most kids with special needs work closely with an adaptive physical education teacher. Collaborative efforts are essential for ensuring that educators meet the physical development needs of the youngster. The physical educator should adhere to the goals and objectives of I he youngster's IEP and participate actively in developing the plan. The physical ability of kids with ASPERGERS is often lower than that of their same-aged peers. Kids with ASPERGERS often struggle with both fine and gross motor skills (Groft & Block, 2003). In addition, the physical educator should be aware that focusing on a youngster's strengths is particularly important when instructing a youngster with ASPERGERS in a physical education setting. Other recommendations when addressing motor and physical development include:
• Analyze tasks: Break skills into smaller component parts, thereby enabling a student with ASPERGERS to focus his or her motor planning in relation to the part rather than to the whole. Sequentially linking, or chaining, the component parts can then help the youngster acquire proficiency in performing the required skill.
• Assess developmental readiness: When determining the sequence for introducing skills, the physical educator should examine previously mastered developmental skills and determine new skills by using a sequential manner and rate that is developmental^' predictable (Kurtz, 2008).
• Assign peers for teams: Most physical educators select activities geared toward team sports. Physical educators should use caution when determining placement on a team. They should assign teams instead of using peer selection.
• Introduce individual fitness activities: "The tendency for students with autism to do well with repetitive activities can be an opportunity to teach individual fitness activities such as bicycling" (Menear & Smith, 2008, p. 33). Researchers have found that kids with ASPERGERS prefer such activities as running, cycling, and rowing.
• Limit competitive and team sports: "Team sports demand an ability to quickly understand, process and respond to social cues under the pressure of competition and expecting an individual to function or be accepted by peers in this setting is unrealistic" (Pan & Frey, 2006, p. 605).
• Provide alternative activities (as indicated on the IEP): The physical demands of many activities taught in physical education classes involve physical interactions among classmates (hand holding, spotting for gymnastics, and leaning against one another). Kids with ASPERGERS may exhibit hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity during this time. Accommodations may be necessary, and the youngster may need an alternative activity if the degree of sensitivity is greatly affecting her or his ability to participate.
• Set goals: To have a successful motor plan, "the youngster must have a mental picture or idea of what needs to occur, clear vestibular and proprioceptive feedback regarding movement, and the ability to make automatic, reflexive adjustments to moving in time and space" (Kurtz, 2008, p. 76). In addressing gross motor planning, a physical educator may need to help the student set specific personal goals. Although the student's goals may differ from those of her or his peers, the goals should be clear, realistic, and attainable.
• Use "part practice": When teaching skills that include several component parts, break the parts up and have the student practice them separately. The physical educator should demonstrate skills in this manner, as well (Coker, 2004). For example, a backward chain of part practice when teaching a youngster the skills involved in bowling would be to first teach the youngster how to swing her or his arm with the bowling ball in hand before asking the youngster to attempt the approach used in performing the overall skill. Once the youngster masters the first skill (the swing), then she or he can begin to practice the approach without using the bowling ball. After the youngster has addressed both skills, he or she can combine the skills and execute bowling in its entirety.
• Use repetition and re-teaching: Young kids with ASPERGERS are frequently unaware that their skill levels are not equal to those of their peers or that they perform a task incorrectly. In this situation, the student may continue using the same movements, thus not reaching the appropriate level of the skill. Teaching a new skill may require many attempts and considerable practice (Kurtz, 2008). The youngster may also need a considerable amount of re-teaching of skills.
• Use sensory stimulation to decrease self-stimulation and to help the student remain attentive to the task presented.
• Vary tasks: Furnish opportunities students to acquire skills through multiple means. For example, when working with a youngster to promote better awareness of vestibular input and balancing skills, the physical educator might ask the student to use a variety of equipment that incorporates movement, including swings, slides, balance beams, and rockers (Kurtz, 2008).
Social Deficits in Relation to Peer Interactions—
Individuals tend to ask me how having Aspergers affected me on a social level. A better question would be how it has not affected my life. Everything from my ability to make and keep friends, to interacting with peers, to understanding my emotions and feelings, to my ability to handle stress and anxiety are all affected. In short, it has affected me in almost every way possible. More specifically, in elementary school, I simply had no idea of what to do or say to my peers, so I kept my distance. In junior high I hated PE, the teasing was worse and I didn't do well.
Most kids participate in physical activity with their peers both within and outside the school setting. Social skills play an essential role in peer interactions. Individuals with AS often have difficulty playing with peers because they have difficulty understanding social cues, taking turns, sharing with others, making eye contact, playing social games, handling reciprocal conversation, and simply making friends (Autism Society of America, 2009). However, "individuals with ASPERGERS desire social interaction with others. Their social difficulties frequently stem from a lack of skill in initiating and responding to various situations" (Myles & Simpson, 2002, p. 133).
Other areas of impairment that relate to social interactions in kids with ASPERGERS include problems with social distance and difficulty understanding unwritten rules; and when kids with ASPERGERS do learn these unwritten rules, many apply them rigidly. In addition, many kids with ASPERGERS lack tact, interpret things literally, and have difficulty adapting to the social demands placed on them in the school setting (Tucker, 2000). Individuals with ASD have indicated that "intense isolation was a defining feature of his/her experience living with ASD. Most described being isolated throughout both childhood and adulthood" (Muller, Schuler, & Yates, 2008, p. 177).
Many of these individuals described themselves as feeling depressed or anxious. Another trigger for feelings of anxiety, as described by Muller et al., is having to initiate social interactions. Researchers have identified other critical social skills that kids with AS often do not acquire, including maintaining eye contact, being aware of body space, empathizing with others, giving and receiving compliments, understanding and using body language, and learning strategies related to initiating and ending conversations (Waltz, 2002).
When engaging in the physical education setting, kids with ASPERGERS may experience difficulty accepting winning and losing and handling criticism of performances, and they may have vocal outbursts in difficult situations (Tucker, 2000). Educators must address these problems when teaching kids with ASPERGERS, as well as teaching their classmates social acceptance in all settings, more particularly, the physical activity setting, in which much social interaction will occur.
Instructional Implications for Social Deficits in Relation to Peer Interactions—
Social settings, including physical education class, often heighten the stress or anxiety levels of kids with ASPERGERS. However, if properly addressed, the physical education classroom offers a good opportunity for kids with and without disabilities to interact with peers. The physical education class often requires social interaction among the students for various reasons and social skills are very important for kids with ASPERGERS to develop so that they can experience success in the physical education setting (Kirby, 2002). Teaching social skills and the ability to interact with peers is not a form of instruction that is specific to kids with Aspergers. All kids need to be taught to interact appropriately with one another, and educators should provide continuous reinforcement for their behaviors. Techniques that educators can use in the physical education setting include:
• Use visual cues: When a student dominates a conversation or takes control, he or she is often not aware of the occurrence. Developing a specific sign to share privately with the student can serve as a cue to him or her to allow others to take part in the conversation. The use of nonverbal cues gives the youngster with ASPERGERS an opportunity to work on such skills as taking turns during conversation and during games and activities.
• Use social stories: "Social stories provide a framework for improving social interactions" (Auxter et al., 2005, p. 413) often found in the physical education setting. An example of an effective social story (that a special education consultant can help develop) is how to successfully follow the rules of a game.
• Use role-playing activities: If a visual cue is not a sufficient adaptation, the physical educator may consider role playing to teach conversational interactions and other social skills needed in the physical education setting. Many kids with ASPERGERS need direct instruction in such social skills as initiating conversation and taking turns.
• Teach equipment use: Role-playing activities also can help educators instruct students in appropriate equipment use. Role playing can simplify the often-complex skills of using equipment appropriately.
• Reduce wait time: Students often display inappropriate behavior during unnecessary wait times. Keeping the students active can increase physical activity and appropriate behavior (Menear & Smith, 2008).
• Monitor social interactions: Monitor interactions closely to ensure that kids with ASPERGERS stay on task and do not dominate the conversation and to ensure that other students do not intentionally prevent kids with ASPERGERS from interacting with the group.
• Establish peer mentors: "Carefully trained and sensitive peer buddies may encourage appropriate social interaction" (Auxter et al., 2005, p. 416). In addition to encouraging social interactions, peer buddies can help students with ASPERGERS by clarifying questions or by giving them clues to help them follow instructions that the physical educator gives.
• Encourage social interactions: Pairing students and allowing them to work with a partner or partners in various activities is a successful method for increasing appropriate social interaction (Groft & Block, 2003). Activities in which pairs can participate include allowing a group of kids to decide the best way to perform a physical task that requires critical thinking or having small groups of kids participate in games and activities that involve the ability to work as a team.
All throughout school I really wanted to tell educators about my disability. 1 wanted to tell them to simply be patient, understanding, and explain what you want me to do and how to do the activity. I wanted to tell them to not assume I knew or even remembered how to participate in an activity.
Now that I look back, I really wish that I could have said, here is how you could serve me better. And then tell them this: I needed more individualized assistance and suppuri in the classroom (which should have been included my IEP goals), I needed a lot more motivation to participate in activities and try new things, I needed a PE teacher that could remain as positive as possible when I struggled with the activities and my interaction with peers. Probably, the biggest help would have been zero tolerance for teasing and bullying in PE. The tasks were already challenging - the last thing I needed was teasing and bullying on top of it.
Because schools are including more kids with ASPERGERS in physical education classes, physical educators need to understand the uniqueness of the diagnosis, including social deficits, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments, and peer interaction in relation to the physical education setting. Understanding these characteristics that kids like Jim have can help educators create a supportive physical education environment for individuals with ASPERGERS.
Few would argue against the need for the physical educator to become an active member of the IEP team. The contributions that a physical educator can make are numerous. Kowalski, Lieberman, & Daggett (2006) indicate several actions that the physical educator can take to become involved in the IEP process. The physical educator should first consult with the classroom teacher and special education teacher. The physical educator can share information about the student's daily performance in class, discuss specific abilities the youngster does or does not have, and help determine whether the youngster is meeting the goals of the IEP plan. Auxter et al. (2005) reiterate that having the physical educator collaborate with the special educator and other service personnel is of utmost importance. Collaboration between IEP team members is essential in monitoring the use and effectiveness of proposed strategies for use in the physical education environment.
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