HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Help for Educators with Students on the Autism Spectrum

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
  • spelling
  • 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

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But...

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

If your child suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, expect him to experience both minor and major meltdowns over incidents that are part of daily life. He may have a major meltdown over a very small incident, or may experience a minor meltdown over something that is major. There is no way of telling how he is going to react about certain situations. However, there are many ways to help your child learn to control his emotions.

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing a child with a neurological disorder. Violent rages, self-injury, isolation-seeking tendencies and communication problems that arise due to auditory and sensory issues are just some of the behaviors that parents of teens with Aspergers will have to learn to control.

Parents need to come up with a consistent disciplinary plan ahead of time, and then present a united front and continually review their strategies for potential changes and improvements as the Aspergers teen develops and matures.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

Although they may vary slightly from person to person, children with Aspergers tend to have similar symptoms, the main ones being:

=> A need to know when everything is happening in order not to feel completely overwhelmed
=> A rigid insistence on routine (where any change can cause an emotional and physiological meltdown)
=> Difficulties with social functioning, particularly in the rough and tumble of a school environment
=> Obsessive interests, with a focus on one subject to the exclusion of all others
=> Sensory issues, where they are oversensitive to bright light, loud sounds and unpleasant smells
=> Social isolation and struggles to make friends due to a lack of empathy, and an inability to pick up on or understand social graces and cues (such as stopping talking and allowing others to speak)

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent?

Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Parents face issues such as college preparation, vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child, if necessary. Meanwhile, their immature Aspergers teenager is often indifferent – and even hostile – to these concerns.

As you were raising your child, you imagined how he would be when he grew up. Maybe you envisioned him going to college, learning a skilled traded, getting a good job, or beginning his own family. But now that (once clear) vision may be dashed. You may be grieving the loss of the child you wish you had.

If you have an older teenager with Aspergers who has no clue where he is going in life, or if you have an “adult-child” with Aspergers still living at home (in his early 20s or beyond), here are the steps you will need to take in order to foster the development of self-reliance in this child.

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