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

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Behavioral, Emotional, and Academic Challenges of Students with Asperger’s and HFA


Most young people diagnosed with Asperger’s and High-functioning Autism (HFA) have behavioral and emotional problems to one degree or another. These challenges are most often related to social skills deficits associated with the disorder (e.g., when the youngster fails to take his turn in a playground game, because he doesn't understand the social rules associated with it).

Social difficulties frequently involve feelings of anxiety, loss of control, and the inability to predict outcomes. As a result, kids on the autism spectrum usually have problems connected to their inability to function in a world they see as threatening and unpredictable.

The child who feels generally fearful and confused will typically act-out these troubling emotions in rather destructive ways (e.g., tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns, aggression, etc.). Thus, it is not uncommon for others to view the Asperger’s or HFA child as mean-spirited and malicious. This, of course, is not the case in most situations. When the “special needs” child experiences behavioral difficulties, his problems are most often associated with his defensive panic reaction, social incompetence, sensory sensitivities, or an obsessive interest in a particular topic.



Because children with Asperger’s and HFA tend to be cut off from their feelings, they obtain facts and information without understanding how those facts can be applied to real-life situations. Also, due to being detail-oriented, they often miss the overall picture and apply the same level of detail to every situation whether appropriate or not.

Parents usually have a great deal of concern about the behavior and social skills deficits of their Asperger’s or HFA youngster. They often report that their child has significant weaknesses in a variety of socially related areas, including overall behavior (e.g., conduct problems, aggression, hyperactivity, withdrawal from social interaction, etc.).

Conversely, teachers often perceive the Asperger’s or HFA student to have both fewer and less significant deficits than do parents (although some teachers do view the student to be "at-risk" in the areas of attention problems and anxiety). This disparity is often due to the fact that kids on the high-functioning end of autism “appear” to perform as well as neurotypical kids in most domains (with the exception of social competency). Therefore, many of the child’s symptoms related to the disorder that result in behavioral problems may be viewed as simple defiance and/or laziness on the part of teachers.

In many ways, students with Asperger’s and HFA are well qualified to benefit from general classroom experiences. They typically have average to above-average intellectual abilities, and better-than-average rote memory skills. However, many of them have learning disabilities and other significant problems in academic performance. The reasons for these problems often are related to the communication and social deficits related to their disorder.

Additionally, even though the Asperger’s or HFA student is exceedingly gifted when it comes to comprehending factual material, he or she often experiences unique challenges that make it difficult to benefit from general education curricula and instructional systems without support and accommodations. For example:
  • concrete and literal thinking styles
  • difficulty in discerning relevant from irrelevant stimuli
  • inflexibility
  • difficulties in the areas of problem-solving and language-based critical thinking
  • trouble generalizing knowledge and skills
  • obsessive and narrowly defined interests
  • weakness in comprehending verbally presented information
  • poor organizational skills
  • difficulties in arriving at logical solutions to routine and real-life problems
  • poor problem-solving skills
  • difficulty attending to salient curricular cues 
  • difficulty in comprehending abstract materials (e.g., metaphors and idioms)
  • problems with understanding inferentially-based materials
  • problems in applying skills and knowledge to solve problems

Many teachers fail to recognize the special academic needs of students with Asperger’s and HFA, because they often give the impression that they understand more than they do. Furthermore, certain strengths of the disorder may actually mask the deficits (e.g., their ability to “word-call” without having the higher-order thinking and comprehension skills to understand what they read, parrot-like responses, seemingly advanced vocabulary, and their pedantic style).

Here’s additional information on the behavioral, emotional, and academic challenges of students with Asperger’s and HFA – and how parents and teachers can help:

Reasons Why Your Asperger’s or HFA Child Gets So Stressed-Out at School

School-Work Problems in Children on the Autism Spectrum

Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum to “Fit-In” with Their Peer Group

Aggressive Children on the Autism Spectrum: Advice for Parents and Teachers

Students with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s: Crucial Strategies for Teachers

Anxiety-Based Absenteeism and School-Refusal in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Poor Academic Performance in Students on the Autism Spectrum



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