Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Educational Strategies for the Aspergers Student

Children with Aspergers can have difficulty in the classroom often because they fit in so well; many may miss the fact that they have a diagnosis. When these kids display symptoms of their condition, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive. Learning about Aspergers in general and about the specific characteristics of your Aspie student will help you effectively manage his behavior and teach your class.

Below are some helpful hints that can guide everyday school life for students with Aspergers. They can be applied to children with Aspergers across the school years and are applicable to almost all environments:

1. A buddy system can be helpful to Aspergers students. In social situations, the buddy can help the Aspie handle these situations.

2. Any changes―unexpected changes, in particular―can increase anxiety in a child with Aspergers; even changes considered to be minor can cause significant stress. Whenever possible, provide consistency in the schedule and avoid sudden changes. Prepare the youngster for changes by discussing them in advance, over-viewing a social narrative on the change, or showing a picture of the change. The environment can also be managed by incorporating child preferences that may serve to decrease his or her stress (e.g., when going on a field trip, the child might be assigned to sit with a group of preferred peers – or if the field trip is going to include lunch, the child has access to the menu the day before so he or she can plan what to eat).

3. Because children with Aspergers cannot predict upcoming events, they are often unsure about what they are to do. Provide information and reassurance frequently so that the child knows he is moving in the right direction or completing the correct task. Use frequent check-ins to monitor child progress and stress.

4. Children with Aspergers have difficulty distinguishing between essential and nonessential information. In addition, they often do not remember information that many of us have learned from past experiences or that to others come as common sense. Thus, it is important to state the obvious. One way to do this is to “live out loud.” Naming what you are doing helps the youngster with Aspergers accurately put together what you are doing with the why and the how. In addition, “living out loud” helps the child to stay on task and anticipate what will happen next.

5. Enforce bullying rules and minimize teasing.

6. Every Aspergers child needs to (a) be evaluated, (b) have a plan established addressing areas of weakness, and (c) have a teacher that believes in the student and expects him to reach appropriate grade level requirements. Teachers who are willing to learn and implement new strategies will provide the best education for all students.

7. Find opportunities throughout the day to tell students with Aspergers what they did right. Compliment attempts as well as successes. Be specific to ensure that the child with Aspergers knows why the educator is providing praise.

8. Frustration can develop from a lack of understanding that Aspergers students are unable to generalize the skills that they learn. For example, a parent or teacher might work at teaching the student how to respectfully address a teacher. Typically this skill would then be generalized to any person in a position of authority. A student with Aspergers is likely to only apply the skill to the person initially used as the target of respect in the learning process. He will probably not apply this behavior to a supervisor, principal, or police officer.

9. If you have a child with Aspergers, adjust your teaching strategies to accommodate the youngster. Many times, kids with this syndrome see things in a very concrete way. If a youngster raises his hand and the educator responds that she will be with him in 5 seconds, he may very well announce when the 5 seconds have passed because of the concrete way he views things. The educator will have to learn to be precise in what she says and use concrete materials rather than abstract ideas whenever possible in her lessons.

10. It is of the utmost importance that the teacher understands what Aspergers is and how it hinders students. Without a clear understanding of this disorder, the teacher will not understand the student. Actions that are clearly a part of the syndrome can be confused with behavioral issues and dealt with inappropriately.

11. It will be extremely important for an educator of an Aspergers child to create a supportive environment where she can thrive. If she is in an integrated classroom, this may mean helping the other children understand her special needs, pairing her with a buddy and having a consistent predictable schedule as part of the daily classroom routine. The educator may also want to create an area where the youngster can go to and calm down if she gets overwhelmed with a given activity.

12. Keep your language concise and simple, and speak at a slow, deliberate pace. Do not expect a child with Aspergers to “read between the lines,” understand abstract concepts like sarcasm, or know what you mean by using facial expression only. Be specific when providing instructions. Ensure that the youngster with Aspergers knows what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Be clear, and clarify as needed.

13. Kids with Aspergers can have high levels of anxiety, which makes changes in routine and unpredictable events difficult for them to handle. An educator should plan well ahead and give the child plenty of advanced notice if a change in routine will occur or a new subject will be taught.

14. Kids with Aspergers often display what is known as splinter skills. In other words, they may excel in one area, even beyond their age level, and yet severely delayed in other areas. For this reason, it is important for an educator of a child diagnosed with Aspergers to have him tested in all of his skill areas. It should not be taken for granted that a youngster who excels in math will also excel in reading; many times the opposite may occur.

15. Make a visual schedule that includes daily activities for children with Aspergers. It is essential that the demands of the daily schedule or certain classes or activities be monitored and restructured, as needed (e.g., “free time,” which is considered fun for typically developing youth, may be challenging for children with Aspergers because of noise levels, unpredictability of events, and social skills problems). For a youngster with Aspergers, free time may have to be structured with prescribed activities to reduce stress and anxiety.

A good scheduling strategy is to alternate between preferred and non-preferred activities with periods in the schedule for downtime. It is important to distinguish free time from downtime. Free time refers to periods during the school day when children are engaged in unstructured activities that have marked social demands and limited educator supervision. Lunch time, passing time between classes, and time at school before classes actually begin all meet the criteria for free time. These activities are stressful for many children with Aspergers. Downtime, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for the youngster with Aspergers to relax or de-stress. Children’s downtime may include using sensory items, drawing, or listening to music to relieve stress. During downtime, excessive demands are not made on the children.

16. Middle school and high school settings present new social challenges for the Aspergers student. Passing periods are a desirable time of socializing for most students. For the Aspergers student, passing periods are a social zoo. Allow the student to leave 5 minutes early in order to avoid the overwhelming social interaction. Without such options, the Aspie could possibly spend most of the next class trying to recover from the distressing sensory overload experience.

17. Operate on “Aspergers time.” “Asperger time” means, “Twice as much time, half as much done.” Children with Aspergers often need additional time to complete assignments, to gather materials, and to orient themselves during transitions. Provide this time or modify requirements so they can fit in the time allotted and match the child’s pace. Avoid rushing a youngster with Aspergers, as this typically results in the youngster shutting down. When time constraints are added to an already stressful day, the child can become overwhelmed and immobilized.

18. Some peers can be educated about Aspergers and gain some understanding of what to expect from their fellow student.

19. There is an aspect of learning that is not obvious to students with Aspergers. This aspect of learning includes the basic “how to's” of living. These are things that other students seem to just know. The social know-how that tells most people what is inappropriate conversation material may be foreign to an Aspergers student. Teachers should instruct students struggling in this realm through the use of “scope and sequence” (i.e., teaching the student about the basics prior to expecting the generalized rules to be learned), direct instruction, social stories, acting lessons, and self-esteem building. Social stories and acting lessons give examples of proper actions in given public settings.

20. When planning activities, make sure the child with Aspergers is aware that the activities are planned, not guaranteed. These children need to understand that activities can be changed, canceled, or rescheduled. In addition, create backup plans and share them with the youngster with Aspergers. When an unavoidable situation occurs, be flexible and recognize that change is stressful for people with Aspergers; adapt expectations and your language accordingly (e.g., an educator could state, “Our class is scheduled to go to the park tomorrow. If it rains, you can read your favorite book on trains”).

Prepare children for change whenever possible; tell them about assemblies, fire drills, guest speakers, and testing schedules. In addition to changes within the school day, recurring transitions, such as vacations and the beginning and end of the school year, may cause an Aspie to be anxious about the change. Children with Aspergers may require additional time to adjust to the new schedule and/or environment.

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