Providing for the needs of children on the spectrum will certainly be one of your greatest challenges as a teacher. Many children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism demonstrate a significant discrepancy between academic achievement and intellectual abilities in one or more of the following areas:
- written expression
- reading skills
- reading comprehension
- oral expression
- mathematics reasoning
- mathematical calculation
- listening comprehension
Here is a list of some of the traits of Aspergers children. These traits are usually not isolated ones; rather, they appear in varying degrees and amounts. An Aspergers child may:
- Find it difficult to stay on task for extended periods of time
- Have a low-tolerance level and a high-frustration level
- Have a poor concept of time
- Have a weak or poor self-esteem
- Have coordination problems with both large and small muscle groups
- Have difficulty in following complicated oral directions
- Have inflexibility of thought
- Have poor auditory memory
- Have poor handwriting skills
- Have some difficulty in working with others in small or large group settings
- Be easily confused
- Be easily distracted
- Be spontaneous in expression
- Be verbally demanding
- Have difficulty controlling emotions
Teaching Aspergers kids will present you with some unique and distinctive challenges. Not only will these children demand more of your time and patience; so, too, will they require specialized instructional strategies in a structured environment that supports and enhances their learning potential. It’s important to remember that Aspergers children are not individuals who are incapacitated or unable to learn; rather, they need differentiated instruction tailored to their distinctive learning abilities.
Children with Aspergers may have difficulty building and maintaining satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers. Also, they may develop anxiety associated with personal or school problems, exhibit a pervasive mood of unhappiness under normal circumstances, or show inappropriate types of behavior under normal circumstances. Although you can’t be expected to remediate all the difficulties of these children, you can have a positive impact on their ability to seek solutions and work in concert with those trying to help them.
Consider the following teaching strategies for children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism:
1. Aspergers children do best when the daily program remains consistent with clear expectations. All staff working with the Aspergers child need to be well-trained and must implement the daily program as consistently as possible.
2. Aspergers children benefit from a highly structured program (i.e., one in which the sequence of activities and procedures is constant and stable). Consider a varied academic program for all your students, but also think about an internal structure that provides the support that the Aspergers youngster needs.
3. Aspergers children need lots of specific praise. Instead of just saying, “You did well,” or “I like your work,” provide specific praising comments that link the activity directly with the recognition (e.g., “I was really impressed with way you organized the rock collection”).
4. Aspergers kids have difficulty learning abstract terms and concepts. Whenever possible, provide them with concrete objects and events (i.e., items they can see, touch, hear, smell, etc.).
5. Because some children on the spectrum rely on some form of augmentative communication, even if it is only a backup, literacy instruction is very important. If a youngster is literate, he or she will be able to communicate at a much higher level than if the youngster is forced to depend on communications devices that are programmed with limited vocabulary. Literacy instruction should begin at a very early age and continue throughout all school years.
6. Establishing and following a visual schedule eliminates the unexpected and assists Aspergers children in anticipating and preparing for transitions. Schedules must be visual and kept in the same location at all times. For pre-readers, an object schedule can be used. A tangible object that is related to the class or activity it represents is attached to an icon and the printed word. Other Aspergers children are able to follow an icon schedule, and strong readers can use a printed schedule. A “check schedule” transition cue is then given to the youngster each time he or she is to transition to a new activity or class.
7. Discuss appropriate classroom behavior at frequent intervals. Don't expect the Aspergers child to remember in May all the classroom rules that were established in September. Provide “refresher courses” on expected behavior throughout the year.
8. Encourage cooperative learning activities when possible. Invite children of varying abilities to work together on a specific project or toward a common goal. Create a classroom environment in which a true “community of learners” is facilitated and enhanced.
9. Get the Aspergers child involved in activities with his or her peers – particularly those children who (a) avoid engaging in bullying behavior and (b) serve as good role models for the Aspergers child. It is important that kids on the spectrum have opportunities to interact with other children who can provide appropriate behavioral guidelines through their actions.
10. Give immediate feedback to Aspergers children. They need to see quickly the relationship between what was taught and what was learned.
11. Kids with Aspergers have a great deal of potential to live and work independently as grown-ups. The curriculum should place a strong emphasis on following a functional curriculum. Skills that emphasize daily living skills, community skills, recreation and leisure and employment need to be incorporated into the curriculum. Children in inclusive settings can follow the regular curriculum, but emphasis should be placed on those skills that are the most functional. Functional academics should always include reading and writing, basic math, time and money skills, self-care skills, domestics, recreation and community experiences. Older Aspergers children should have formal employment opportunities beginning in middle school.
12. Make activities concise and short whenever possible. Long, drawn-out projects are particularly frustrating for an Aspergers child, especially if he or she is not interested in the subject at hand.
13. Many children with Aspergers have particular strengths and interests, and these should be taken advantage of in the classroom (e.g., if the youngster demonstrates an interest in trains, he or she should have opportunities to read about trains, write about trains, do math problems about trains, and so on).
14. Most children with Aspergers have some sensory needs. Some find deep pressure very relaxing. Others need frequent opportunities for movement. It would be helpful if the student had a sensory profile completed by an occupational therapist or other professional trained in sensory integration. Based on the profile, a sensory “diet” can be created and implemented throughout the day.
15. Provide Aspergers children with frequent progress checks. Let them know how well they are progressing toward an individual or class goal.
16. Provide opportunities for the child to self-select an activity or two he or she would like to pursue independently. Invite the child to share his or her findings or discoveries with the rest of the class.
17. The classroom should be structured visually to help the Aspergers youngster clearly see and understand what is expected of him or her. Work stations should be clearly defined. Some Aspergers children will need three-sided work stations, while others will be able to work in more open areas. Taped outlines on the floor, chairs labeled with the youngster’s name, or using furniture to reduce visual and auditory stimulation are examples of environmental considerations. Work stations also need to be structured. Activities should be designed with strong visual cues so less auditory directions are needed. Each station also needs to clearly show what needs to be done, how much needs to be done, when the youngster will be finished, and what’s next.
18. Most children with Aspergers need direct instruction in social skills. They do not learn interaction skills by simply being placed in social environments. They need to learn social interaction skills in the same way they learn other academic skills. Using strong visual structure, activities can be designed to teach about identifying emotions in self and others, situations that can cause certain emotions, and how to respond in certain social situations. “Social stories” can be very useful in this endeavor (i.e., short stories written about specific social situations that briefly describe a social situation, how others may respond in this situation, and how the youngster should respond).
19. Visual and auditory stimulation in the classroom should be taken into consideration. Many children with Aspergers are sensitive to auditory input and have a more difficult time processing auditory stimulation. Their work stations should be placed away from excessive auditory stimulation and away from unnecessary movement.
20. When necessary, plan to repeat instructions or offer information in both written and verbal formats. It is vitally necessary that Aspergers kids utilize as many of their five senses as possible.
21. Whenever possible, give the Aspergers child a sense of responsibility. Put him or her in charge of something (e.g., operating an overhead projector, cleaning the classroom aquarium, re-potting a plant, etc.), and be sure to recognize the effort the child put into completing the assigned task.Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism