Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Aspergers Students: Summary of Educational Considerations

Is your child with Asperger's or high functioning autism going to have a new teacher in the upcoming school year? If so, you will do your child a big favor by emailing the following "summary of educational considerations" to his or her teacher. Here is the link:

Most Asperger's (AS) kids have normal or above-normal intelligence, and are able to complete their education up through the graduate or professional school level. Many are unusually skilled in music or good in subjects requiring rote memorization. On the other hand, the verbal skills of kids with AS frequently cause difficulties with educators, who may not understand why these "bright" kids have social and communication problems.

Some AS kids are dyslexic; others have difficulty with writing or mathematics. In some cases, AS kids have been mistakenly put in special programs either for kids with much lower levels of functioning, or for kids with conduct disorders. AS kids do best in structured learning situations in which they learn problem-solving and social skills as well as academic subjects. They frequently need protection from the teasing and bullying of other kids, and often become hypersensitive to criticism by their teenage years. One approach that has been found helpful at the high-school level is to pair the adolescent with AS with a slightly older teenager who can serve as a mentor. The mentor can "clue in" the younger adolescent about the slang, dress code, cliques, and other "facts of life" at the local high school.

Asperger's kids are characterized by a number of elements:
  • Abnormal eye contact - either avoidance or prolonged intense gaze
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated
  • Competence with expressive speech and number often masks poor comprehension Literal interpretations of speech
  • Competent with puzzles
  • Consistent unawareness of non-verbal feedback (including consequences of actions)
  • Cope well in a structured predictable environment with clear and simple rules stated in concrete terms - they will follow the rules to the letter
  • Holistic approach to tasks and does not cope with approximations
  • Lack of interest in pleasing people (e.g., educators and parents) and unresponsive to the usual subtle cues of displeasure such as head shaking etc
  • Lack of spontaneity in exploring new situations
  • Learn from direct instruction, not intuitive perception
  • More interested in books and factual information
  • Poor or absent capacity to use or understand facial expression, gesture, tone, pause or body language
  • Precocious visual and auditory memory
  • Slow development of speech without the usual approximations
  • Use of speech to gain gratification or impart information and rarely for communicative intent
  • Very egocentric

Areas of Difficulty—

The school environment is a complex, constantly changing and often unpredictable. Children are required to cope with changing stimuli; varying behavioral expectations; complex social interaction with adults, peers and children of other age levels; the academic challenges of each day; their own mood and state of health and are expected to behave appropriately at all times. This can be a challenge for neurologically typical kids but for those with learning and social disabilities, it can, unless properly, managed be almost insurmountable.

Kids diagnosed with AS may not be able to understand or express their emotions, understand what is expected of them or be able to apply the rules learned at other times and in other situations to the situation with which they are faced.

These children are often of average or above average intelligence and as they mature, they become aware of their difference and want to fit in but don't know how to. This can lead to intense frustration which may either result in outbursts of verbal and/or physical violence or withdrawal into themselves. The quiet, well behaved student is often the most at risk because the problem issues are unseen and thus unaddressed.

The student may have a "reputation that precedes them" for both children and staff. Older children may have low self esteem and an expectation of failure both academically and behaviorally.

The main characteristics of Asperger's, which hinder both academic and social progress are:

• Cognitive Skills
• Communication Skills
• Physiological Deficits
• Social Skills

An effective program will among many things, recognize the children' strengths and build on them to give them a feeling of achievement and thus improve their confidence. It will also recognize the problem areas and provide strategies to deal with behaviors, strategies to teach both academic and social concepts, which start with the concrete and move to the abstract at the student’s pace. Overall the program will not just teach 'academic fact' but teach strategies and skills that will assist future academic learning, social interaction and the development of the children self control and self discipline.

Learning Structures—

Kids diagnosed with AS require a mixture of the following structures to successfully achieve in the classroom. Behavior is often an indicator of frustration and stress and the following can assist in their management and reduction. Often, these ideas are beneficial to all the children.

  • Be aware that the student may be defensive of their person and/or personal space and plan for this if applicable.
  • Consider isolating the student for short periods to teach new concepts or build on pre-existing knowledge in a distraction free setting.
  • Ensure that the youngster is in a position of least distraction from the source of the information to which the youngster must respond (i.e., up the front and away from visual and auditory "clutter").
  • Structure the physical environment to facilitate learning and minimize frustration (providing visual and physical order assists in focusing).
  • Watch for peers who feed-off and feedback inappropriate behaviors and position them away from the student - often the student will like these peers but the relationship is not necessarily the best for either student.
  • Watch for peers who obviously or subtly annoy the student and position them away from the student.

In Class Structure:
  • Break tasks up into manageable segments and train the student to schedule and plan.
  • Brief, precise, concrete instructions and make sure that they understand - don't assume that repeating the instruction means that the student has understood.
  • Predicable environment and routine with preparation for any changes.
  • Set behavioral limits and monitor to implement consequences or provide coping strategies.
  • State clearly what is expected - be concrete and allow time for the student to process the information.
  • Teach the student to ask for help and appropriate methods of doing so.

Presentational Issues:
  • Break work into small steps.
  • Have written instructions for older primary children and include visual cues and mark clearly the things that need to be completed.
  • Keep black/whiteboard presentation as neat as possible.
  • Know and use the student's strengths.
  • Present new concepts in a concrete manner.
  • Show examples of what is required.
  • Use activity based learning where possible.
  • Use visual prompts as appropriate.

Teaching Issues:
  • Do not do for the student what they can do for themselves.
  • Don't expect the student to automatically generalize instructions.
  • Use language to tie new situations to old learning.
  • Don't rely on emotional appeals or presume that the student will want to please you.
  • Concentrate on changing unacceptable behaviors and don't worry about those which are "simply" odd.
  • Use the obsessive or preferred activity as a reward.
  • Use opportunities which arise to teach the student about how other children feel and react when they are hurt or upset.
  • Be absolutely consistent and don't give options if there are no options.

Work closely with the parents and listen to them - they have already had much experience coping with the youngster. And don't judge atypical parenting as odd – it is often a coping reaction to the student's behavior rather than the cause of the behavior.

Other Strategies to Support Development:
  • Explain metaphors and avoid where possible (i.e., 'Frog in your throat').
  • Explain the timetable to the secondary youngster so they understand the daily structure - a simple written timetable also helps primary age kids and can benefit all the class.
  • Explicitly teach rules of social conduct so that the youngster does not constantly interrupt or interrupt with questions relevant 20 minutes ago.
  • Have a Communication Book and use it daily to inform parents of successes and failures, ask for parental advice and receive information from parents (it is difficult for parents to find out what is happening at school but it is vital that they know so they can inform the Doctors and therapists of issues and receive and transmit advice from medicos to educators).
  • Have a strategy to employ when the youngster can't cope due to over-stimulation or confusion.
  • Have a time out area for discipline when needed (it is important to enforce consequences and to ensure that the 'time out' isn't more attractive than the activity).
  • Provide a formal "peer support network" or "mate/buddy" system for the safety of the youngster.
  • Provide the parents with a timetable to ensure that the youngster can be rehearsed for the following day and has the necessary equipment required for the day’s activities because they are not strong on organizational skills and need assistance in this area.
  • Teach "safety phrases" such as "Are you pretending? or What do you mean? or Why should I do that?" to give the youngster a vocabulary of questions to help them gain information (they won’t know how to do it naturally) so they can determine the nature of a situation and respond accordingly.
  • When an issue begins to surface, do not ignore it or think it too minor to mention to parents (parents prefer more information than less and often something minor points to a serious issue which has bearing on behavior at home).

Kids diagnosed with Asperger's have a propensity to disrupt the class due to:
  • lack of ability to focus
  • confusion
  • literal interpretation of instructions
  • inability to read social rules and cues
  • overloading of the 'senses' (too much noise, visual stimulation or physical stimulation)
  • lack of desire to 'please'
  • inability to explain feelings plus other factors.

These kids are rarely disruptive for the sake of it and are amenable to behavior modification providing that clear and simple instructions are given and consequences are consistently applied if the inappropriate behavior continues.

It is very important to keep the parents informed because that is their only way of knowing what is happening at school. This information is vital to the youngster's doctors to ensure that the management program is relevant and effective and that problems can be identified and managed quickly to minimize disruption to the youngster and fellow children.

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