Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Part 7: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Impairment in Social Interaction

Young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA):
  • are easily taken advantage of (e.g., do not perceive that others sometimes lie or trick them)
  • are relatively naïve
  • are sometimes labeled "little professor" because speaking style is so adult-like and pedantic
  • exhibit poor ability to initiate and sustain conversation
  • have difficulty judging "social distance"
  • have difficulty understanding jokes, irony or metaphors
  • have well-developed speech, but poor communication skills
  • may appear insensitive and lacking tact
  • may be extremely egocentric
  • may not like physical contact
  • may use inappropriate gaze and body language
  • may use monotone or stilted, unnatural tone of voice
  • often misinterpret social cues
  • show an inability to understand complex rules of social interaction
  • talk “at” people instead of “to” them
  • usually have a desire to be part of the social world, but don’t have the skills to do so

Programming Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Protect the youngster from bullying and teasing.

2. Older students with AS and HFA can benefit from a "buddy system." The teacher can educate a sensitive classmate about the situation of the youngster with AS or HFA and seat them next to each other. The classmate could look out for the “special needs” youngster on the bus, during recess, in the hallways, etc., and attempt to include him or her in school activities.

3. Most young people with AS and HFA want friends, but simply do not know how to interact. They should be taught how to react to social cues and be given repertoires of responses to use in various social situations. Teach these kids what to say and how to say it. Model two-way interactions and let them role-play. Their social judgment improves only after they have been taught rules that “typical” children pick up intuitively.

4. Young people with AS and HFA tend to be reclusive. Therefore, the teacher must foster involvement with others. Encourage active socialization, and limit time spent in isolated pursuit of interests. For instance, a teacher's aide seated at the lunch table could actively encourage the youngster with AS or HFA to participate in the conversation of his classmates not only by soliciting his opinions and asking him questions, but also by subtly reinforcing other kids who do the same.

5. In the higher age groups, attempt to educate peers about the youngster with AS or HFA when social ineptness is severe by describing her social problems as a true “disorder.” Praise classmates when they treat her with compassion. This task may prevent scapegoating, while promoting empathy and tolerance in the other kids who may be “different.”

6. Emphasize the proficient academic skills of the youngster with AS or HFA by creating cooperative learning situations in which his reading skills, vocabulary, memory, etc., will be viewed as an asset by classmates, thereby engendering acceptance.

7. Although they lack personal understanding of the emotions of others, kids with AS and HFA can learn the correct way to respond. When they have been unintentionally insulting, tactless or insensitive, it must be explained to them why the response was inappropriate and what response would have been correct. Children with AS and HFA must learn social skills intellectually, because they lack social instinct and intuition.

Struggling with your "special needs" student? Click here for highly effective teaching strategies specific to the Aspergers and HFA condition.

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