Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Effective Teaching Practices for Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

As a parent of a child with Aspergers (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), you may have had an occasion in which your child’s teacher was unsure of what course of action to take given a particular issue related to your child’s condition. Not all teachers know how best to deal with an AS or HFA student – but most are willing to learn. If you have had such an experience, please feel free to copy and paste the “teacher’s tips” below and offer to provide a copy to your child’s teacher(s).

Effective Teaching Practices for Students with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA):

1. A youngster with AS/HFA is likely to be more successful at completing school assignments and tests if the work is presented in a way that visually highlights and organizes important information. For example, the directions for a test might be highlighted so that he will be sure to see them. Important sections of a book can also be highlighted to help him study. If he will need specific information from a reading in order to complete an assignment, the educator could highlight that information in the text, or give him a written reminder telling him the type of information to look for.

2. A youngster with AS/HFA may be more successful at mastering some academic skills if aspects of the curriculum are geared towards his interests. For example, instead of trying to stop him from thinking about airplanes, he could learn math using airplanes. For example, when teaching division, you can have him calculate the speed of a plan that takes 5 hours to go 1000 miles.

3. A child with AS/HFA might also benefit from having an assigned peer who accompanies him in some less structured social situations. For example, an older child might volunteer to sit with him at lunch two days each week and help him to interact with other children in that setting. Such peers might also help him develop leisure skills. Some older kids from Boy Scout troops, church groups, or college children are often willing to help students by accompanying them on a community outing each week to places such as the bowling alley, movies, or science museum. Often an older boy can serve as a role model in a way that is more attractive to students with AS/HFA than when grown-ups are telling them how to behave.

4. As children with AS/HFA move into middle school and high school, extracurricular activities become another structured opportunity for peer interaction. Joining groups that are related to the strengths and interests of a youngster with AS/HFA gives them the opportunity to interact around a shared interest.

5. At times mothers and fathers of children with AS/HFA have difficulty finding out what happened at school. Two methods can be used to improve communication between the school and home. First, the child should keep a notebook in his binder that educators can use to send notes home. When the educators write a note, the child should place it in their folder for that class so that they will remember to show it to them when they do their homework. Likewise, they can place information in the various folders that they want to communicate to the educators.

6. Computer skills can provide vocational and recreational skill. Many students with AS/HFA enjoy working on computers and find that some computer jobs suit them well. The use of the Internet has also been a way to meet others and form friendships that is more comfortable for individuals with AS/HFA than more conventional ways of meeting.

7. Consistent written rules will help the child with AS/HFA to know what is expected of him at all times. When one breaks a rule, you should remind him to look at his rules, rather than telling him what to do. When the educator tells a child what to do, the instructions take on a "personal" nature that can be difficult for a child with AS/HFA. By referring the youngster back to the rules the direction seems less personal, as though the rules sheet is saying what to do, not the person. Another way to make the rules seem more palatable are to put them on school letterhead, refer to them as school policy, or say that these are rules the doctor at the hospital (if they have been seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist) said they must follow.

8. Homework assignments may need to be written in a way that gives more information that other children usually need. For example, the other children may remember to copy the assignment from the board, but a child with AS/HFA might need the educator to write the assignment and put it in their folder. Along with the written assignment, the educator may also need to write a checklist of the materials the child will need.

9. If a youngster with AS/HFA feels a "rage" coming on, it would be helpful if the educator or caretaker would give him a written note to go to a predetermined quiet area of the school to write about why he or she is angry. All verbal directions from staff or mothers and fathers should stop as this tends to escalate the anger of a person with AS/HFA. If more directions are needed, it is helpful if the grown-ups write them out. At first the child may crumple up the paper, but usually if you leave the paper by them and walk away, he will eventually read it.

10. If a child needs to communicate with others when they are upset they should be encouraged to write to you (or write on the computer) as their ability to communicate verbally is reduced when they are anxious.

11. If classes rely on lecture as a teaching method, it may be necessary to find someone who can help the child with AS/HFA to take notes. This help could take one or more of the following forms depending on the needs and types of help that work best for them. The child could be paired with a classmate who writes clear notes and who could photocopy his notes to share with the child, or the child with AS/HFA might tape record classes to help him remember the lectures, or his educator might provide him with an outline of the lecture.

12. It is very important for children with AS/HFA to learn to rely on daily schedules. By doing so, they will be able to function in a more organized and independent manner as grown-ups. Children with AS/HFA should learn to independently follow the directions of a daily schedule that is contained on the inside cover of their school notebook. It could be housed within a laminated sleeve so that they can use a water soluble marker to cross off each event as it occurs. This is also a good avenue for introducing unexpected changes that may occur during the day. Changes should be highlighted so that he can anticipate them without becoming upset.

13. Many children with AS/HFA have been very successful in school when they are assisted by a personal aide. Again this should be a person who knows about AS/HFA. Such a person would benefit from receiving specific training regarding high-functioning AS/HFA. The role of this person should not be to serve as the child's shadow that steps in and helps whenever a problem arises. Instead, the aide is most helpful when she assists in developing and implementing the structure (e.g., schedules, modifying assignments, checklists, etc.) that will be useful in increasing the youngster's independence. This aide can also make sure that these structures are implemented throughout his day. Even when the child with AS/HFA is spending time in a special education class, it might be helpful for him to have the aide present. In this situation the aide might be responsible for implementing the structure and making sure that the child's assignments and instruction are commensurate with those being presented in regular classrooms. This might be necessary as his peers in a special education classroom may not have academic skills that are comparable to his.

14. When a youngster with AS/HFA understands what is going to happen next, he is less likely to become upset. The use of written schedules, written instructions, and routines will help the youngster to understand what is happening. Writing a schedule in a way that helps the youngster anticipate changes will help him to remain calm when those changes occur and writing activities into his schedule which are appealing to him will increase his interest in following the schedule.

15. Many students with AS/HFA have poor handwriting and their handwriting skills do not seem to improve with practice. It has been helpful to teach these kids keyboarding skills at as early an age as possible. Once these are mastered, many students have found it easier to complete homework assignments, take notes in class, and complete long-term projects. Often occupational therapists have provided valuable services in teaching children with AS/HFA to use keyboards.

16. Many children with AS/HFA benefit from using a notebook that helps them organize their work and materials. These notebooks are usually ring binders that have a folder for every class during the day. The folder should have two pockets: one for assignments and the other for completed work. In addition to the folders, there should be a place for his daily schedule, a notebook for communication between educators and mothers and fathers, and a plastic pouch to carry his supplies. If he has difficulty organizing his supplies for different classes he may need a separate pouch for each class which could be placed in front of the class folder.

17. Often because of difficulties with communication, students with AS/HFA benefit from speech and language services. The focus of these services should be on developing pragmatic language skills. Speech therapists have served a number of roles in helping students with AS/HFA meet pragmatic language goals. The use of scripts can help the youngster learn what to say in a variety of situations. For example, if a child with AS/HFA has difficulty with other children during lunch, his speech therapist might help him develop a script for beginning a conversation and then a list of things to talk about. The child may also benefit from working with a speech therapist in groups where the group is learning to apply language skills in practical social situations, such as playing games together.

18. Often times, students with AS/HFA are impulsive. They will need special preparation before entering new situations. This might require having someone who is familiar with the youngster "scout" the situation ahead of time to anticipate possible problems and then write out rules that the youngster with AS/HFA can review and keep with him when he enters that situation.

19. Often the outbursts and impulsive behaviors of children with AS/HFA can appear to be manipulative, purposeful rule breaking, or intentional rudeness. In most cases, these problems will be related to the youngster's condition and should be addressed in ways that are different than the ways there behaviors might be addressed in other students.

20. Providing students with checklists is another way to help them remain organized. For example, when the child has homework assignments it would be helpful to provide two pieces of information. At the top of each homework assignment sheet would be a list of necessary materials. On the bottom would be his assignment written out in detail. Giving the youngster checklists is particularly helpful when he has to complete short series of related activities or when they need to organize a group of materials. For a chore at home they might need a checklist for completing the steps necessary to clean their room. "Clean your room" would be an item on their schedule. Then a checklist could be posted in their room telling them all the things they need to do (e.g., sweep the floor, put your toys in the toy bin, put your school notebook in your backpack, put your books on the shelf, put away your clean clothes, make your bed, etc.). They would check off each item as they completed it so that they would know whether they have finished all of their tasks.

21. Providing a child with structured opportunities to interact with peers can help him develop his social skills. Just putting him in situations where other students are present, however, is unlikely to be helpful. Instead, inviting children into his special education class to play structured games is a way to give him practice interacting while keeping the interaction focused through a concrete game. In some cases, providing his peers with simple information about AS/HFA is also likely to make his peer interactions more successful because they will know more about why he does the things that seem odd to them.

22. Social skills will improve when these students are provided with strategies that will improve their understanding of social situations and give them specific behaviors to use when they are interacting with others. Two such strategies, Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations, have been developed by Carol Gray of Jenison Public Schools in Michigan.

23. Some students with AS/HFA benefit from individual counseling. This counseling does not take the form of insight oriented counseling. Instead it makes use of many of the strategies described above, such as the social stories, to help develop social skills. Other strategies include role-play, concrete problem solving, such as making a list of who to talk to when someone teases you, or helping them to develop the skills to write their own schedules. Occasionally there are more emotional issues that need to be addressed but every attempt should be made to relate these issues to concrete information that can be understood by the child and to keep these discussions from being too open-ended. Frequently some portions of these counseling sessions are more successful when they take place by writing back and forth to each other.

24. Some children have difficulty remembering which books to take home. It is often helpful to give children with AS/HFA two sets of books; one for home and one for school. This reduces the number of ideas that the youngster needs to organize to be able to complete his homework in a timely way.

25. Sometimes it is difficult for students with AS/HFA to carry on reciprocal conversations because they are so driven to talk about their own interests. Many are able to put off talking about their interests to another time if they know when that time will be. For example, you might write on his schedule that he will be able to talk to the teacher about airplanes at 9:30. When he starts interrupting class or a private conversation by bringing up airplanes, you can remind him that you will talk about it at 9:30.

26. Students with AS/HFA might benefit from visual techniques designed to help them understand the nature of reciprocal conversations. For example, visual symbols can be used to learn pragmatic skills such as taking turns and not interrupting. The child and a peer might be given a box of Legos and a list of topics. Each peer could take turns choosing a topic. This may help the youngster to understand that he cannot always talk about his own interests. As each peer takes a turn to say something about the topic, he gets to place a Lego onto another and pass the structure to the next peer. Once the group get used to this game it can be elaborated. For example, the members of the group might only be able to put a block on if he says something directly related to what the person said before. Or the group members can draw cards that tell them what sort of comment to make on their turn. One card might instruct the youngster to ask a question of the youngster who just spoke. Another card might tell the youngster to say something he liked about what the person just said. Other cards might emphasize nonverbal pragmatic skills such as drawing a card that tells the youngster to show someone you are interested without saying anything or show someone you agree without saying anything. Strategies such as these give students repeated practice in conversational skills.

27. Usually when students with AS/HFA become upset or engage in inappropriate behaviors, they are unlikely to have the skills to appreciate why what they are doing is wrong because they cannot form those cause and effect social connections. It is tempting to think that bright children would know the effects of their behavior on others, but this is often not the case and it is best to err on the side of AS/HFA when interpreting misbehavior. Visual comics and stories will help them to understand social situation better and will help them to know what to do.

28. When children with AS/HFA are mainstreamed into the regular classroom setting, it would be best to do so for classes that are interesting to them and which are related to their strengths. For example, special needs children are often mainstreamed into electives such as physical education classes. Such a strategy would probably not be successful for students with AS/HFA. The social nature of this type of class and the relative lack of structure would make it difficult for them to have success in this setting. They would be much more successful if they were placed in a class such as math, and electives, such as computers, which are academic strengths, strong interests, and take place in a structured setting.

29. When you are preparing students to work or play independently, they will be most successful if you provide them with important “written” information (e.g., How much am I expected to do? How will I know when I am finished? What am I expected to do? What will I do next?). By knowing ahead the answers to these questions, the youngster will be more successful and independent in completing activities. Having a clear understanding of what is happening and what they are supposed to do will also decrease any anxiety they feel when they are unsure and unable to ask for clarification.

30. Worksheets might need to be reorganized to help the child be more successful. He is more likely to finish all the problems and follow directions if there are fewer problems on each sheet of paper and if the place for his answers is large and prominent. For example, his class might have a homework assignment of 20 problems that are all written on the same page. The child might be more successful if his assignment contains the same 20 problems, but on 4 different pages. Each problem might be accompanied with a large numbered box that corresponds to the number of each problem so that he can clearly see where the answer belongs and also clearly see whether he has finished all of the problems on the page.

Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA


Anonymous said...

Thank you for these really great ideas!

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! This was really great info! My Aspie is getting older and I worry about his success at school. Thank you do much for sharing this!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so VERY much for this!!!

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed to help my aspie. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! Not only can I pass this along to my child's educators, but I will definitely use this next year when we school at home. Very timely and very insightful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! This was really great info! My Aspie is getting older and I worry about his success at school. Thank you do much for sharing this!!

Anonymous said...

My grandson is 6 and an aspie ,he has big problems with math,is there a test or something he can take to get special help for learning math?

Anonymous said...

My 8yo aspie daughter NEEDS to draw (yes she drew that picture on my profile icon, lol ;) or she goes crazy. That is her obsession. And right now everything she draws is Monster High. If she is not drawing monster high art she ends up fidgeting, talking in class, meowing like a cat and crawling on the floor, or pulling her hair (she has ADHD too). So the teachers have decided not only to let her draw in class as a privilege dependent upon her behaving and listening, doing the work etc... but they also took the initiative to learn about her special interest! I thought that was really cool. They have even allowed her to do some assignments with monster high motifs in them just so she will stay interested.

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