Aspergers Kids and School Issues

Before the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, school districts frequently did not allow handicapped kids to enroll. Today legislation such as the Education for All Handicapped Kids Act of 1975, amended in 1990 to become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, protects the right of handicapped kids to a free and appropriate education in the public schools.

The "spirit" of laws that apply to handicapped kids is that each youngster should be educated as an individual. This is a good thing for kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) in particular – not that they are “handicapped,” but they do have special needs. They need individual treatment, because they can range from highly gifted children who excel in academics to students with a variety of learning disabilities and comorbidities like ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The majority are usually between the two extremes.

From birth to age three years, federal laws require that handicapped kids receive early intervention services. These may be speech and language therapy, nutritional counseling, vision and medical services, parental counseling and so forth. Usually a teacher comes to the youngster's home and works with her one-on-one, although some kids receive services in public school classrooms or clinical settings. However, kids with AS and HFA often do not receive a diagnosis until after they enter school, so they tend to miss Early Intervention programs.

Once a youngster enters school, moms and dads can require a free evaluation and assessment by a multidisciplinary team. If the team determines the youngster does not require special education, moms and dads have the right to appeal the decision and get another free evaluation. The most common problem is that AS and HFA kids often appear too bright and verbal to need services. Their solitary lifestyle can mask their social deficiencies. For this reason, many moms and dads end up hiring lawyers to receive public school accommodations for their kids.

If the school determines that the youngster needs special education, moms and dads should find out what is available at that school and in that district. Services can be speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, counseling, vocational education, and assistive technology like special computer software. Moms and dads have to consider if the youngster should be in a self-contained classroom or mainstreamed or in a combination of both. Moving the youngster to a different school or even school district with better facilities might be beneficial. Often it's a good idea to hire or have the school provide an expert in AS and HFA to help staff and parents decide what's best for the youngster.

A handicapped youngster can receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 is about getting access and removing barriers to education. For example, a youngster in a wheelchair may need a special door opener, but once she receives access to the classroom, she is treated like other children. Schools tend to encourage moms and dads to go for 504 accommodations rather than services under IDEA because it is less work for them. One of the few advantages in using 504 accommodations is that the youngster receives no "label." However, many more services become available under IDEA.

Under IDEA, parents and school staff meet together at the beginning of the school year and come up with an "Individualized Education Plan (IEP)." The plan must be written, and include an assessment of the youngster's current strengths and weaknesses. The IEP must contain measurable goals for the year and list specific special education aids and services. Moms and dads and staff meet periodically to make sure the goals are attained. There should be an IEP case manager who checks the youngster's work every day and develops new strategies. Most IEPs for AS and HFA kids have contingencies (e.g., allowing extra time for work, giving out shorter or alternate work assignments, providing the youngster with copies of other kids’ notes, allowing the youngster to take tests over or have extra time for them, allowing the youngster to take oral instead of written tests, etc.).

Some AS and HFA kids need those special contingencies. However, for the majority, the most important need is getting help with social interactions and reciprocity. AS and HFA kids can excel academically – but fail in life – because they do not have social skills. One such individual earned several advanced degrees, but could not procure a job because he do not interview well. He then took a lower level job that required hand-eye coordination, fail at that, and then went back and got another degree …and so the cycle went on.

For this reason, many moms and dads opt out of the public system and find a private school that is designed for kids with AS and HFA. Sometimes administrators at their public schools even recommend such a placement. In that case, the school district may pay for tuition at the private school. If a doctor recommends such a school, the tuition costs can be tax-deductible or covered by medical insurance. Many AS and HFA kids benefit from even a year or so at a residential school that provides intense, twenty-four hour training in social skills.

Many kids with AS and HFA are very bright, and may even excel academically in one or more subjects. However, they often need protection from other children who bully or take advantage of them. AS and HFA kids do not know which children to avoid. For example, if the special needs youngster makes a friend, that "friend" may make him do assignments for him, break rules, take the blame and otherwise put the youngster in jeopardy.

The AS or HFA youngster usually does not understand the "hidden rules" of school, but takes all rules at face value. He may memorize the rule (e.g., "don't use profanity at school"), but he doesn't know that most children swear from time to time, they just don't swear in front of adults. AS and HFA kids also do not understand "hidden social agendas." If the youngster participates on a high school debate team that meets in a coffee house, she comes prepared like a little professor to talk about the subject at hand. She does not understand that the other children are there to socialize as well as practice for the team.

For this reason, AS and HFA kids require individualized training in social and emotional competency. There are many promising new teaching techniques for these kids. On the elementary school level, some educators are using "social stories" with special cartoons to help kids recognize facial expressions. Acting classes also might help an AS and HFA youngster better understand emotional reactions.

Self-contained classrooms usually have a small number of kids with a variety of special needs. The teacher may have extra training in special education and receive help from one or more aides. Therefore, the big advantage of a self-contained classroom is extra individual attention. However, there are several disadvantages to self-contained classrooms. Kids with AS and HFA often gain more knowledge about social interactions and how the "typical" world operates in a mainstream classroom. Academics may be "watered down" in a self-contained classroom. Kids with AS and HFA do not do well with emotionally disturbed kids who are often streetwise and aggressive. If these two groups are together in a self-contained classroom, the combination of the perfect victim and perfect victimizer may result.

Sometimes a youngster may start out in a self-contained classroom and gradually transition to a mainstream one. This usually has to be done slowly, and takes an average of two months to two years. It may begin with just a half-hour at a time in the regular classroom for elementary school children, and perhaps an hour at a time in the youngster’s strongest subject on the high school level. Some experts recommend seating the AS and HFA youngster next to a successful peer who can help him with organization and provide class notes, if necessary.

In general, AS and HFA kids do better in classrooms that are predictable and structured with as few transitions as possible. Teaching with an emphasis on visual presentation plays to these kids’ strength of visual acuity. Educators should structure lessons in clear patterns that are easy to follow. During "unstructured" periods (e.g., lunch, physical education, recess, passing to classes, etc.), the special needs youngster may need individual accommodations.

Teachers should have some understanding of AS and HFA. The teacher may develop a special "cue" such as tapping the youngster's shoulder to help the youngster pay attention when his mind is wandering. The teacher should be strong in language skills, and use drama to help the youngster understand other people's emotions. The teacher should be a calm person in control of the classroom, which will decrease the special needs youngster’s anxiety. Changes and surprises will upset an AS/HFA youngster. Therefore, the teacher should help with transitions and let the youngster know in advance when, for example, he will have to recite in front of the class.

The teacher should also know to deal with "meltdowns" and "tantrums." There are three stages of a tantrum: rumbling, the tantrum itself, and recovery. It is best to intervene in the "rumbling" phase. During the actual tantrum, an AS or HFA youngster may scream, bite, hit, kick or destroy property. For this reason, the teacher should wear comfortable clothes and keep expensive or sentimental items out of reach. During "recovery," the youngster may be exhausted, deny the tantrum happened, or be remorseful. It is important that the teacher is a sensitive person so that if an AS or HFA youngster tantrums at school, then the child does not experience complete humiliation in front of his classmates.

Struggling with an AS or HFA student? Click here for highly effective teaching strategies specific to Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. 


•    Anonymous said... I am still trying to find services for when my daughter graduates in June- it is a heartbreaking nightmare. There is NOTHING for young adults...If anybody has information and/or ideas, please please let me know!!! xoxo
•    Anonymous said... I begged my son's school to test him in first grade. I had nine meetings with his principal, counselors, and teachers. They insisted nothing was wrong with him except he needed more discipline, because he is extremely intelligent, just below genius. Even after he ran away from school three times, they didn't think anything was wrong. It wasn't until CPS tried to take him from me (for his behavior problems, nothing I did) at age 11 that he was finally tested & diagnosed. It's such a shame those first five years of school were wasted because the school didn't want to perform a test.
•    Anonymous said... I e-mailed my sons school almost 2 weeks ago to ask for an evaluation (a counselor he is seeing said she thinks he has Aspergers) but I talked on the phone with the school today and they are saying they can't do an evaluation this close to the end of t...See More
•    Anonymous said... I have not found any Canadian University that has specific programming for young adults with AS....my daughter has finally worked up enough courage to go...away from home...and has been accepted...they want an evaluation that has been done in the last 5 years...which means I might have to spend more money getting one....in order to register with the special services dept at the U. I'm happy that she's finally going, because I believe she'll be okay, but I do worry....just getting her to this point has been a battle and a half, but I'm glad that we fought the good fight....hang in there, it is soooooo worth it!
•    Anonymous said... I highly recommend homeschooling as the optimal solution.
•    Anonymous said... Just went through all this with our school, and ended up hiring an advocate to help. Best $ I ever spent - I finally got them to listen and start evaluations. Turns out, while he can read well mechanically, his summarizing is poorly lacking. FINALLY getting services!
•    Anonymous said... Listening to all this, and my experiences are much the same with my two boys, officials refuse to diagnose, mis diagnose, no direct help just hurdles thrown up at most turns etc which makes us all feel like the pro's we see are incompetent, of hiding something.  Seems there's a hole here for a probono lawyer to make some money, might kick the pro's into doing their job correctly. What I must add though is we moved our kids from a school that didn't understand, who would leave problems brewing for weeks before dealing with them by which time there were so many problems my boy couldn't cope and the tension at school and home was continually exploding, we were all very un happy and near despair. To a new school, with the help of a family support worker whose been brilliant, to one where every teacher is aware and understands the problems with or without a professional diagnosis, and who work with us This has made a massive difference. They understand when my Jason is struggling and adjust immediately to help defuse a trigger long before and melt down, and as the tension at school has dropped, so the tension in the home has dropped, we feel a lot better, my boy feels much better that he can now cope is now doing much better at school and home, an improvement I never thought possible. So it may not be the diagnosis that's the issue, but getting people around sufferers, both we as parents and the schools we use, to understand and learn to treat the problems effectively and quickly. The big question is why are some schools so good, and other absolutely useless, but being involved with this site seems to be the biggest chance of helping all here.
•    Anonymous said... My daughter had a 504 from grade five on, with a diagnosis of selective mutism. We never had an issue with school. I took her in 11th grade to be diagnosed with aspergers. The school was very accommodating and immediately changed her 504 to an IEP. We didn't need any changes, but they did it to help us get services for when she is 18 (which she is now). As soon as we had the IEP, our DOR's program accepted her, so she can have help with school and job hunting.
•    Anonymous said... My son has Aspergers, when I brought up my concerns about his social issues, as well meltdowns and odd quirks, his pediatrician suggested I have him go through some testing at school, and told me to keep the term Aspergers Syndrome in the back of my mind. I went through quite the runaround with the school. They kept telling me he was too smart for there to be an issue, that all kids have meltdowns, most kids are late learning to tie shoes and ride bikes, that it was wrong to put a label on him, that there was some help they could give him without having to actually test him and "label" him. I ended up having to take him to an AS specialist psychologist and spend nearly $1500 on the evaluation. Glad I did it though because she said he has moderate to severe symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and diagnosed him with Aspergers. Once I had that official diagnosis the school couldn't deny it and (grudgingly) agreed to do more tests and put him on an IEP, which has almost completely changed his school life. It just sickens me the way the school handled this. Unfortunately, a lot of people in my small town don't know any better and just go along with what the schools tell them. Very upsetting.
•    Anonymous said... Our ASD specialist does not like giving a diagnosis under 6 years old. We were told at kindy our eldest was poss aspergers when he was 4, we had been asking for help from when he was 18 months old, we saw the same traits in our youngest and he was 2, and so started strategies that we had been given by kindy and the youngest has certainly been easier. At our first school because he was doing fine academically we were told by the RBLT they were unable to provide services and yet school were threatening suspension for behavior. Contacted our Minister of Education and he was given funding for a term. We changed schools and by the 2nd term we had 7 hours funding a week. We are in the process of changing schools again, and they have already organised a TA to help with transition, but he can have a TA as long as he needs it.
•    Anonymous said... There are several good books out there to guide you through the process of getting the services your child is entitled to under federal law. You don't HAVE to hire an attorney to do this, but it you DO have to know your rights. The law is on YOUR side here, and the most important thing you can do in communicating with anyone at your child's school is to do it in WRITING!!!!! The school MUST respond by law to requests in writing for evaluations within a very specific time frame. Do your research and don't be afraid to take them on. They will do everything they can to push your away, but you DON'T have to go! You are your child's best advocate.
•    Anonymous said... This is the reason why my daughter was not diagnosed as HFA until she was 19 years old! By that time she had dropped out of school and had severe social anxiety as well. Now we are trying to undo a lifetime of damage.
•    Anonymous said... This was exactly why it took 3 years to diagnose our son!
•    Anonymous said... Very timely article - thank you! @Laura - how would one even start the process of considering homeschooling? Is there a website you can recommend I take a look at? Are you doing the teaching or does your son have a special ed tutor?
•    Anonymous said... We had a similar issue with our school, we ended up paying almost $3000 for out testing and now my HFA son is attending an autism school worth it in the end, just starting the testing with our 2 year old now....
•    Anonymous said... We had a very similar story to the one above, however, the school in our case still didn't think he needed an IEP. After years of fighting, tearful meetings and disappointment, we were at the point of hiring a lawyer. That's when we discovered homeschooling & it completely changed our son's life.

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