The following summary identifies the specific learning difficulties of Aspergers (high functioning autism) students and suggests a number of possible classroom strategies:
Difficulties with language—
- “Comic Strip Conversations” can be applied to a range of problems with conversation skills
- difficulty understanding complex language, following directions, and understanding intent of words with multiple meanings
- encourage the student to ask for an instruction to be repeated, simplified or written down if he does not understand
- explain metaphors and words with double meanings
- limit oral questions to a number the student can manage
- pause between instructions and check for understanding
- small group instruction for conversational skills
- teach appropriate opening comments
- teach rules and cues regarding turn-taking in conversation and when to reply, interrupt or change the topic
- teach student to seek assistance when confused
- tendency to interrupt
- tendency to make irrelevant comments
- tendency to talk on one topic and to talk over the speech of others
- use audio taped and videotaped conversations
- watch videos to identify nonverbal expressions and their meanings
Insistence on sameness—
- use pictures, schedules and social stories to indicate impending changes
- wherever possible prepare the student for potential change
Impairment in social interaction—
- difficulty reading the emotions of others
- difficulty understanding "unwritten rules" and when they do learn them, may apply them rigidly
- difficulty understanding the rules of social interaction
- educate peers about how to respond to the student’s disability in social interaction
- encourage cooperative games
- explicitly teach rules of social conduct
- interprets literally what is said
- lacks tact
- may be naïve
- may need to develop relaxation techniques and have a quiet place to go to relax
- may need to provide supervision and support for the student at breaks and recess
- problems with social distance
- provide clear expectations and rules for behavior
- structured social skills groups can provide opportunity for direct instruction on specific skills and to practice actual events
- teach flexibility, cooperation and sharing
- teach the student how to interact through social stories, modeling and role-playing
- teach the student how to start, maintain and end play
- teach the students how to monitor their own behavior
- use a buddy system to assist the student during non-structured times
- use other children as cues to indicate what to do
Restricted range of interests—
- incorporate and expand on interest in activities and assignments
- limit perseverative discussions and questions
- set firm expectations for the classroom, but also provide opportunities for the student to pursue his own interests
- break down assignments
- difficulty sustaining attention
- frequent teacher feedback and redirection
- may be disorganized
- often off task
- reduced homework assignments
- seating at the front
- timed work sessions
- use nonverbal cues to get attention
Poor organizational skills—
- help the student to use "to do" lists and checklists
- maintain lists of assignments
- picture cues in lockers
- pictures on containers and locker
- use schedules and calendars
Poor motor coordination—
- consider the use of a computer for written assignments, as some students may be more skilled at using a keyboard than writing
- involve in fitness activities
- may prefer fitness activities to competitive sports
- provide extra time for tests
- take slower writing speed into account when giving assignments (length often needs to be reduced)
- areas of difficulty include poor problem solving, comprehension problems and difficulty with abstract concepts
- avoid verbal overload
- be as concrete as possible in presenting new concepts and abstract material
- break down tasks into smaller steps or present it another way
- capitalize on strengths, e.g., memory
- check for comprehension, supplement instruction and use visual supports
- do not assume that they have understood what they have read
- don’t assume that the student has understood simply because he/she can re-state the information
- good recall of factual information
- may do well at mathematical computations, but have difficulty with problem solving
- often strong in word recognition and may learn to read very early, but difficulty with comprehension
- provide direct instruction as well as modeling
- show examples of what is required
- use activity-based learning where possible
- use graphic organizers such as semantic maps
- use outlines to help student take notes and organize and categorize information
- usually average to above average intelligence
- easily stressed due to inflexibility
- educate other students
- help the student to understand his/her behaviors and reactions of others
- may be prone to depression
- may have difficulties coping with the social and emotional demands of school
- may have difficulty tolerating making mistakes
- may have rage reactions and temper outbursts
- often have low self-esteem
- provide experiences in which the person can make choices
- provide positive praise and tell the student what she/he does right or well
- teach techniques for coping with difficult situations and for dealing with stress
- teach the student to ask for help
- use peer supports such as buddy systems and peer support network
- use rehearsal strategies
- be aware that normal levels of auditory and visual input can be perceived by the student as too much or too little
- confusing, complex or multiple sounds such as in shopping centers
- having the student listen to music can camouflage certain sounds
- high-pitched continuous noise
- it may be necessary to avoid some sounds
- keep the level of stimulation within the student’s ability to cope
- minimize background noise
- most common sensitivities involve sound and touch, but may also include taste, light intensity, colors and aromas
- sudden, unexpected noises such as a telephone ringing, fire alarm
- teach and model relaxation strategies and diversions to reduce anxiety
- types of noises that may be perceived as extremely intense are:
- use of ear plugs if very extreme
- At times, the student may experience "meltdowns" when nothing may help behavior. At times like this, please allow a "safe and quiet spot" where the student will be allowed to "cool off." Try to take note of what occurred before the meltdown (was it an unexpected change in routine, for example) and it's best to talk "after" the situation has calmed down.
- Foster a classroom atmosphere that supports the acceptance of differences and diversity.
- Generally speaking, a grown-up speaking in a calm voice will reap many benefits.
- It is important to remember that just because the student learns something in one situation, this doesn't automatically mean that they remember or are able to generalize the learning to new situations.
- Note strengths often and visually. This will give the student the courage to keep on plugging.
- The student may have vocal outbursts or shriek. Be prepared for them, especially when having a difficult time. Also, please let the other students know that this is a way of dealing with stress or fear.
- The student may need help with problem-solving situations. Please be willing to take the time to help with this.
- The student reacts well to positive and patient styles of teaching.
- This syndrome is characterized by a sort of "Swiss cheese" type of development (i.e., some things are learned age-appropriately, while other things may lag behind or be absent).
- Students may have skills years ahead of normal development (e.g., a student may understand complex mathematics principles, yet not be able to remember to bring their homework home).
- When dividing up assignments, please ASSIGN teams rather than have the other students "choose members", because this increases the chances that the student will be left out or teased.
- When it reaches a point that things in the classroom are going well, it means that we've gotten it RIGHT. It doesn't mean that the student is "cured", "never had a problem" or that "it's time to remove support". Increase demands gradually.
- When you see anger or other outbursts, the student is not being deliberately difficult. Instead, this is in a "fight/fright/flight" reaction. Think of this as an "electrical circuit overload." Prevention can sometimes head off situations if you see the warning signs coming.
- Allowing the student to write down the question or thought and providing a response in writing may break the stresses/cycle.
- It is more helpful if you avoid being “pulled in” by answering the same thing over and over or raising your voice or pointing out that the question is being repeated. Instead, try to redirect the student's attention or find an alternative way so he/she can save face.
- The student may repeat the same thing over and over again, and you may find that this increases as stress increases.
- Giving one or two warnings before a change of activity or schedule may be helpful.
- The student may have a great deal of difficulty with transitions. Having a picture or word schedule may be helpful.
- Please try to give as much advance notice as possible if there is going to be a change or disruption in the schedule.
Sensory Motor Skills/Auditory Processing—
- Breaking directions down into simple steps is quite helpful.
- Directions are more easily understood if they are repeated clearly, simply and in a variety of ways.
- The student has difficulty understanding a string of directions or too many words at one time.
- The student may act in a very clumsy way; she may also react very strongly to certain tastes, textures, smells and sounds.
- Speaking slower and in smaller phrases can help.
- Using picture cures or directions may also help.
- Allow the student to "move about" as sitting still for long periods of time can be very difficult (even a 5 minute walk around, with a friend or aide can help a lot).
- He may get over-stimulated by loud noises, lights, strong tastes or textures, because of the heightened sensitivity to these things.
- Unstructured times (e.g., lunch, break, PE) may prove to be the most difficult for him. Please try to help provide some guidance and extra adults help during these more difficult times.
- With lots of other kids, chaos and noise, please try to help him find a quiet spot to which he can go for some "solace".
- Hand signals may be helpful, especially to reinforce certain messages, such as "wait your turn", "stop talking" (out of turn), or "speak more slowly or softly".
- Some Aspergers students learn best with visual aids, such as picture schedules, written directions or drawings (other students may do better with verbal instruction).
- At times, it may take more than few seconds for my student to respond to questions. He needs to stop what he's thinking, put that somewhere, formulate an answer and then respond. Please wait patiently for the answer and encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, he will have to start over again.
- When someone tries to help by finishing his sentences or interrupting, he often has to go back and start over to get the train of thought back.
- At times, it looks as if the student is not listening to you when he really is. Don't assume that because he is not looking at you that he is not hearing you.
- She may actually hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.
- Unlike most of us, sometimes forcing eye contact BREAKS her concentration.
Social Skills and Friendships—
- Identifying 1 or 2 empathetic students who can serve as "buddies" will help the student feel as though the world is a friendlier place.
- Students with Aspergers may be at greater risk for becoming "victims" of bullying behavior by other students. This is caused by a couple of factors: (1) there is a great likelihood that the response or "rise" that the "bully" gets from the Aspergers student reinforces this kind of behavior; (2) Asperger kids want to be included and/or liked so badly that they are reluctant to "tell" on the bully, fearing rejection from the perpetrator or other students.
- Talking with the other members of the class may help, if done in a positive way and with the permission of the family. For example, talking about the fact that many or most of us have challenges and that the Aspergers students challenge is that he cannot read social situations well, just as others may need glasses or hearing aids.
- They may want to make friends very badly, yet not have a clue as to how to go about it.
- Let him know, if possible, when there will be a substitute teacher or a field trip occurring during regular school hours.
- Please let the student know of any anticipated changes as soon as you know them, especially with picture or word schedules.
- This is very important to most Aspergers students, but can be very difficult to attain on a regular basis in our world.
- Sarcasm and some forums of humor are often not understood by my student. Even explanations of what is meant may not clarify, because the perspectives of Aspergers student can be unique and, at times, immovable.
- Although his vocabulary and use of language may seem high, Aspergers students may not know the meaning of what they are saying even though the words sound correct.
- If necessary allow her to copy the notes of other students or provide her with a copy.
- It may be helpful to develop schedules (picture or written) for him.
- Many Aspergers students are also dysgraphic and they are unable to listen to you talk, read the board and take notes at the same time.
- Please post schedules and homework assignments on the board and make a copy for him. Please make sure that these assignments get put into his backpack because he can't always be counted on to get everything home without some help.
- The student lacks the ability of remember a lot of information or how to retrieve that information for its use.
The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism