Classroom Challenges for Asperger Students

The characteristics of Aspergers (high functioning autism) translate into challenges to learning, behavior, and socialization for the youngster with the disorder and pose just as significant difficulties for the teacher in terms of teaching, controlling behaviors, and maintaining a classroom environment that is conducive to learning by all students, including the youngster with Aspergers. The list below provides a quick reference guide for some of the common difficulties kids with Aspergers have in the classroom.

Common difficulties in the classroom:

• Academic difficulties
• Appear “normal” to other people
• Difficulties with abstract concepts
• Difficulty with learning in large groups
• Difficulty with reciprocal conversations
• Emotional vulnerability
• Inability to make friends
• Insistence on sameness/difficulty with changes in routine
• Interests limited to specific topics
• Low frustration tolerance
• Motor clumsiness
• Pedantic speech
• Poor concentration
• Poor coping strategies
• Poor organization skills
• Poor writing skills (fine-motor problems)
• Problem-solving abilities tend to be poor
• Restricted range of interests
• Sensory issues
• Socially na├»ve and literal thinkers
• Tend to be reclusive
• Vocabulary usually great; comprehension poor

Because these kids have so many strengths, it is often easy to overlook their weaknesses. Also, some of their behaviors may be misinterpreted as “spoiled” or “manipulative,” resulting in the mistaken impression that kids with Aspergers are being defiant and “troublemakers.”

It is important for teachers to recognize that inappropriate behaviors are usually a function of poor coping skills, low frustration tolerance, and difficulty reading social cues. Most teaching strategies that are effective for students with autism (structure, consistency, etc.) also work for students with Aspergers. However, because these kids are often aware that they are different and can be self-conscious about it, teachers may need to be subtler in their intervention methods.

My Aspergers Child: Highly Praised Program for Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums 

Aspergers Students: Dealing with Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns in the Classroom

Tantrums, rage, and meltdowns (terms that are used interchangeably) typically occur in three stages that can be of variable length. These stages and associated interventions are described below. The best intervention for these behavioral outbursts is to prevent them through the use of appropriate academic, environmental, social, and sensory supports and modification to environment and expectations.

The Cycle of Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns and Related Interventions

 Initial stage

During the initial stage, children with Aspergers (high functioning autism) exhibit specific behavioral changes that may appear to be minor (e.g., nail biting, tensing muscles, indicating discomfort). During this stage, it is imperative that an adult intervene without becoming part of a struggle.


Effective interventions during this stage include: antiseptic bouncing, proximity control, support from routine and home base. All of these strategies can be effective in stopping the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns and can help the youngster regain control with minimal adult support.


If behavior is not diffused during the initial stage, the child may move to the rage stage. At this point, the youngster is disinhibited and acts impulsively, emotionally, and sometimes explosively. These behaviors may be externalized (e.g., screaming, biting, hitting, kicking, destroying property, self-injury), or internalized (e.g., shutdowns, withdrawal). Meltdowns are not purposeful, and once the rage stage begins, it most often must run its course.


Emphasis should be placed on youngster, peer, and adult safety, as well as protection of school, home, or personal property. Of importance here is helping the child with Aspergers regain control and preserve dignity. Adults should have developed plans for (a) obtaining assistance from educators, such as a crisis teacher or principal; (b) removing the student from the area (removing the upset student from the peer group is far less memorable for the peers than is moving the entire peer group away from the upset student); or (c) providing therapeutic restraint, if necessary. Especially in elementary and middle school, every effort should be made to prevent allowing a student to have a meltdown in view of peers as this behavior tends to “define” the student in the peers’ minds in years ahead.


Following a meltdown, the youngster with Aspergers often cannot fully remember what occurred during the rage stage. Some may become sullen, withdraw, or deny that inappropriate behavior occurred. Other children are so physically exhausted that they need to sleep.


During the recovery stage, kids are often not ready to learn. Thus, it is important that adults work with them to help them to once again become a part of the routine. This is often best accomplished by directing the child to a highly motivating task that can be easily accomplished (e.g., activity related to a special interest). If appropriate, when the student has calmed sufficiently, “process” the incident with him or her. Staff should analyze the incident to identify whether or not the environment, expectations, or staff-behavior played a role in precipitating the incident.

My Aspergers Child: Methods for Preventing Meltdowns at Home and in the Classroom

What is the best way to communicate with my Aspergers child?


What is the best way of effectively communicating things to my child with Aspergers?


Communicating with a child who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be a delightful experience. It can just as often be a frustrating experience. Children with ASD can have a wide range of communication skills, so it’s important to tailor any communication specifically to your child. Many times, you’ll have to try some communication techniques to see if they’re effective.

Be sensitive when speaking with a child with Asperger’s (high functioning autism). Understand that your child might not be able to maintain eye contact or that he might not want you sitting close to him or touching him. Understand that you will need to teach him how to communicate effectively.

Using a tool such as Interactive Training Cards, created by Joan Green, can help you teach your child about communication. Interactive Training cards were developed by special educators specifically to help facilitate communication with people with communication delays or difficulties. Each set of communication cards comes with 120 2”x2” laminated cards that relate to the topic of the set. The set also includes four sentence and cards containing common words, such as yes, no, thank you, no thank you, and more. Words are printed on the front and back of each picture.

These Interactive Training Cards come in several sets, each set having a different theme. The Food Set includes foods for each meal, snacks, condiments and kitchen materials and utensils. The Home and Health Set include chores, hygiene activities, body parts and physical ailments. Another set contains Elementary and High School Activities.

Understand that communicating with a child with ASD will be repetitive and time consuming. It can often be frustrating. Be patient. Often children with ASD are slower to process things they hear, so expect the pace of conversation to be different than in a standard conversation. Give your child time and space to respond appropriately and to formulate a response.

When working on communication skills with your child, try to engage him in a topic of interest to him. This will help extend the conversation and give him a change to feel confident while talking to you. He will be excited and will be more willing to engage when the topic piques his interest.

Communicating effectively with children with ASD can be a challenge. But the rewards and benefits are tremendous. Your child will reap the benefits of your efforts, as he is able to understand the world a bit better and to learn more effective communication skills.

Teaching Strategies for Children and Teens with ASD – Level 1

Everything your autistic child's teacher needs to know [share this post with him or her]:

Initially it is necessary to understand the nature of the ASD student in regards to curriculum education. Safran (2002) indicates many of the characteristics of ASD can be "masked" by "average to above average IQ scores." (p. 284). This can result in the ASD being misunderstood by instructors. Safran (2002) explains that adults often presume the student is capable of more than is being produced. Lack of understanding of the ASD student in this way can significantly impede the desire of the instructor to search for strategies useful in overcoming the hindrances caused by the disability.

Another misunderstanding is the relationship between curriculum and social education. For example, a youngster with ASD might find a social setting overwhelming and distracting. If kids are placed in a small group for project work this might predominantly become a social setting to an ASD student. It is possible the student would be so over stimulated by the social aspect that it would be extremely challenging to focus on the curriculum aspect of the group.

Strosnider, et al., (1997) recognize this overlap between curriculum and social education. The researchers suggest that when considering modifications the most important aspect is considering all the elements involved in public education and not just deciding which area to modify. These authors propose that three areas effect education. The areas in review are academic, physical and interpersonal. These are all areas of difficulty for the ASD student. Strosnider, et al., (1997) compiled The Academic, Physical and Interpersonal Inclusion Plan (API Inclusion Plan). This plan assists the regular education instructor in brainstorming strategies for each of the three mentioned areas of education. This is particularly useful when considering the potential unavailability of a special education instructor for collaboration purposes.

The overlap between social and curriculum education is also expressed by Bashe and Kirby (2001). They report, "if asked to design an environment specifically geared to stress a person with ASD, you would probably come up with something that looked a lot like a school. You would want an overwhelming number of peers; periods of tightly structured time alternating with periods lacking any structure; regular helpings of irritating noise from bells, schoolmates, band practice, alarms, and crowded, cavernous spaces; countless distractions; a dozen or so daily transitions with a few surprises thrown in now and then; and finally, the piece de resistance: regularly scheduled tours into what can only be described as socialization hell (a.k.a. recess, lunch, gym, and the bus ride to and from school). It's a wonder that so many kids with ASD manage to do so well." (p. 365).

All of these types of stressors must be taken into consideration when evaluating what types of strategies will be beneficial to the ASD youngster. Kluth (2003) addresses the idea that the learning environment is itself a strategy.

In creating the right environment Kluth (2003) suggests one aspect to be considered is that of sounds. This researcher uses the familiar example of nails on a chalk board. Just imagining it can send a chill down the spine. Kluth (2003) explains that to a youngster with ASD every day sounds can have a similar affect.

Kluth (2003) advocates the important of an instructor taking inventory to determine sounds difficult for the student to listen to. Also offered is the solution of allowing the student to listen to soft music with headsets during class times including excessive noise. Earplugs are another solution suggested.

Williams (2001) supports the proposal of Kluth. According to Williams (2001), minimizing the stress and worry ASD students face is crucial to education. The researcher offers the notion of minimizing transitions and insuring the environment is predictable to the student. When there are changes in the routine, it is recommended the student be prepped ahead of time so excessive anxiety will not arise. In addition to alleviating stress, the researcher notes that frequent changes in routines make it difficult for the student to focus on the curriculum due to preoccupation concerning what will come next in the day.

Although all of these suggestions provide a better environment for the ASD student, a public school is not a static environment. ASD students, like all others, change teachers each year. Additionally, there is the requirement of moving from elementary, middle, and high school. These transitions are considered by Adreon and Stella (2001). These researchers recommend a "transition-planning meeting" be scheduled prior to such transitions taking place. (p. 271). This meeting allows the previous instructor to educate the incoming teacher on successful strategies as well as provide general education on the characteristics of ASD. The student should be orientated as well. Allowing the student extra time to become familiar with a new environment will prevent unnecessary stress during transition.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Once the environment has been considered, other instructional strategies can be implemented. One approach to education widely used is the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Kids program. It is referred to as TEACCH. Ozonoff, Dawson, and McPartland (2002) describe this method as a way to build upon the ASD youngster's memory strengths. Many students display these memory skills in their ability to remember large quantities of information on subjects they are interested in. A youngster may, for example, become fascinated with trains and be able to offer as much detail as an expert in the field.

Cumine et al., (1998) indicate that TEACCH has 4 main elements. These elements include the physical structure of the classroom, a visual schedule of the day's activities, an explanation of the type and length of the work expected, and instructions presented visually in addition to verbally. These strategies are considered by the researchers to provide "scaffolding" for the ASD student. (p. 35).

Ozonoff, et al., (2002), elaborate on the suggestion of visual signs for the ASD student. The research claims that visual instructions and schedules help the student to feel more secure and less stressed so the mind can direct its attention to learning.

Because these students have difficulty learning in a traditional manner, depression can ensue. The capability to acquire information is present but performance is hindered. A depressed student will undoubtedly have some kind of academic struggles. For these students, depression is just one more barrier to education.

Just as Ozonoff et al., (2002) suggest that the student's strengths be maximized, Shevitz, Weinfeld, Jeweler, and Barnes-Robinson (2003) suggest a program that accomplishes the idea of maximizing student's strengths as well as increasing self esteem by using the student's preoccupation with one individual topic.

Shevitz et al., (2003) describe a mentoring program called "Wings Mentor Program". The authors explain how current statistics show there is approximately one Gifted/Learning Disabled (G/LD) student in each classroom. This was the motivation to establish the Mentor Program. The program was piloted in 1989. The results indicate, "that the mentor program improves students' self-concept, positively changes others' perceptions of them, and promotes their overall motivation in the classroom." (Shevitz, et al., 2003, p. 42).

"These are the students who, also able to participate actively in a class discussion, are unable to write a complete sentence. They are the students who rarely have homework completed, or if done, cannot find it. They are light years ahead in math, but reading below grade level. These same students may not only be able to program the computer, but they may be able to take it apart completely and put it back together again. Ask them about the Civil War, DNA cloning, lasers, or ancient civilizations and you might be bombarded with information and unique insights. Ask them to write about the same topic and they may produce little or nothing." (Shevitz, et al., 2003, p. 37).

The program attempts to remedy this problem by coupling a mentor with a student. A topic is selected and for 8 weeks the mentor meets with the student for one hour each week. The students can choose to study an area that is a source of preoccupation. At the end of the 8 weeks the class or school hosts a show-off night where the students share their project. This could also replace the traditional research projects that are done at the elementary school level. Students are filled with pride in the ability to impress moms and dads and peers with presentations.

This program is a very effective method of instruction for students with ASD. It is effective because these kids are usually bright but frustrated with traditional education environments. This program offers the opportunity to be excited about learning as well as the chance to learn about individual abilities and how these abilities can be applied to the classroom environment in which they learn.

Barnhill (2001) provided further encouragement for programs allowing students to exhibit knowledge. This research elucidates such opportunities give the ASD student's peers a reason to appreciate and respect ASD classmates. This argument is valuable from a social and educational perspective.

Similar to the mentor program, Safran (2002) recommends a one-to-one aide or shadow. The assistance of a shadow can keep the ASD student on task as well as serving as an interpreter in social settings. It is noted in the report there is no real evidence to support the notion this type of aide is effective. Like most strategies, it works for some students and is less effective with others.

Strategies for Social Education—

As previously mentioned, curriculum education is not the only education a AS student encounters in the public school system. Social behaviors are not only necessary for successful playground interaction, they are necessary for successful acquisition of educational curriculum. This was previously mentioned in the example of group projects being problematic for an ASD students due to the social element involved. Myles and Simpson (2001) have entitled this aspect of education "The Hidden Curriculum". (p. 279).

The "Hidden Curriculum" suggests an aspect of learning that is not obvious to students with ASD. This aspect of learning includes the basic how -to's of living. These are things that other students seem to just know. The social know-how that tells most people what is inappropriate conversation material may be foreign to an ASD student. The investigators (2001) put forward teachers instructing students struggling in this realm through the use of "scope and sequence, direct instruction, social stories, acting lessons, and self-esteem building." (p. 283). Social stories and acting lessons give examples of proper actions in given public settings.

Middle school and high school settings present new social challenges for the ASD student. Gagnon and Robbins (2001) address the craziness these students encounter during classroom transitions. Passing periods are a desirable time of socializing for most students. For the ASD student, passing periods are a social zoo. The researchers advocate allowing the student to leave 5 minutes early in order to avoid the overwhelming social interaction. Without such options, the ASD student could possibly spend most of the next class trying to recover from the distressing sensory overload experience.

Often frustration can develop from a lack of understanding that these students are unable to generalize the skills that they learn. For example, a parent or instructor might work at teaching the student how to respectfully address a teacher. Typically this skill would then be generalized to any person in a position of authority. A student with ASD is likely to only apply the skill to the person initially used as the target of respect in the learning process. He or she will probably not apply this behavior to a yard supervisor, principal, or law enforcement officer. Understanding this inability to generalize will elevate frustration on the part of instructors.

There are additional techniques that have used in assisting students to learn to generalize. Myles and Simpson (2001) suggest that modes of instruction such as "scope and sequence" (p. 283) can be useful in equipping students with the skills that assist in social and academic learning as well as generalization.

The authors (2001) define scope and sequence training as teaching the student about the basics prior to expecting the generalized rules to be learned. They give the example of teaching a student the tone of a person's voice sends a message prior to teaching the youngster they should use a tone that is respectful to others. Due to the difficulty these students have with generalization, failing to teach the basics will further enhance their inability to generalize.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

The inability to generalize can also pose a problem in classroom assignments. According to Jackson (2002), a youth author with ASD, giving the direction to open a math book to a certain page does not communicate to additionally begin solving the problems. The author instructs educators to verbally give all the steps necessary to complete an assignment rather than assuming ASD students will know what comes next.

It is clear from the teaching strategies outlined in this project, that similar to students without ASD, students with this pervasive developmental disorder are unique and require different techniques and approaches in their educational experience. Every student has unique abilities and struggles. This is true of ASD students as well.

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from the research done in this project. First, it is of the utmost importance that the instructor understands what ASD is and how it hinders students. Without a clear understanding of this disorder, the instructor will not understand the student. Actions that are clearly a part of the syndrome can be confused with behavioral issues and dealt with inappropriately.

Secondly, the instructor must educate his/herself on effective teaching strategies. An outstanding method of continuing education is collaboration among educators. In research conducted by Hunt, Soto, Maier, and Doering (2003), a Unified Plans of Support (UPS) team is studied. At risk students who had a UPS team meeting once a month to strategize and reevaluate existing plans intended to assist each student climbed in measured test scores.

The IDEA Act is clear in its declaration that students must be placed in the least restrictive environment possible in an effort to provide them with the best education possible. This can only be achieved by means of evaluation by instructors as to the effectiveness of their chosen teaching strategies and a willingness on the part of educators to continue to learn new techniques of instruction.

All of these strategies are helpful and potentially vital to the education of ASD students. Inclusive classrooms give them the opportunity to have their intellectual capacity challenged and nurtured. With this opportunity comes the responsibility for educators to learn the strategies necessary for the success of these students. "Inclusion is more than a set of strategies or practices, it is an educational orientation that embraces differences and values the uniqueness that each learner brings to the classroom." (Kluth, 2003. p. 23-24). With the diversity existing in the classroom, knowledge of these strategies will better prepare the educator to meet the academic and social needs of all students.

The basic principles that prove effective with students outside the ASD group work for those within. Every youngster needs to be evaluated, have a plan established addressing areas of weakness, and most importantly have an instructor that believes in the student and expects him/her to reach appropriate grade level requirements. Instructors who are willing to learn and implement new strategies will provide the best education for all students.

Seven Characteristics of ASD and Accompanying Classroom Strategies—

Kids diagnosed with ASD (AS) present a special challenge in the educational milieu. Typically viewed as eccentric and peculiar by classmates, their inept social skills often cause them to be made victims of scapegoating. Clumsiness and an obsessive interest in obscure subjects add to their "odd" presentation. Kids with ASD lack understanding of human relationships and the rules of social convention; they are naive and conspicuously lacking in common sense. Their inflexibility and inability to cope with change causes these individuals to be easily stressed and emotionally vulnerable. At the same time, kids with ASD (the majority of whom are boys) are often of average to above-average intelligence and have superior rote memories. Their single-minded pursuit of their interests can lead to great achievements later in life.

ASD is considered a disorder at the higher end of the autistic continuum. Comparing individuals within this continuum, Van Krevelen (cited in Wing, l99l) noted that the low-functioning youngster with autism "lives in a world of his own," whereas the higher functioning youngster with autism "lives in our world but in his own way" (p.99).

Naturally, not all kids with ASD are alike. Just as each youngster with ASD has his or her own unique personality, "typical" AS symptoms are manifested in ways specific to each individual. As a result, there is no exact recipe for classroom approaches that can be provided for every youngster with ASD, just as no one educational method fits the needs of all kids not afflicted with ASD.

Following are descriptions of seven defining characteristics of ASD, followed by suggestions and classroom strategies for addressing these symptoms. (Classroom interventions are illustrated with examples from my own teaching experiences at the University of Michigan Medical Center Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital School.) These suggestions are offered only in the broadest sense and should be tailored to the unique needs of the individual student with ASD.

Insistence on Sameness—

Kids with ASD are easily overwhelmed by minimal change, are highly sensitive to environmental stressors, and sometimes engage in rituals. They are anxious and tend to worry obsessively when they do not know what to expect; stress, fatigue and sensory overload easily throw them off balance.

Programming Suggestions—

• Allay fears of the unknown by exposing the youngster to the new activity, teacher, class, school, camp and so forth beforehand, and as soon as possible after he or she is informed of the change, to prevent obsessive worrying. (For instance, when the youngster with ASD must change schools, he or she should meet the new teacher, tour the new school and be apprised of his or her routine in advance of actual attendance. School assignments from the old school might be provided the first few days so that the routine is familiar to the youngster in the new environment. The receiving teacher might find out the youngster's special areas of interest and have related books or activities available on the youngster's first day.)

• Avoid surprises: Prepare the youngster thoroughly and in advance for special activities, altered schedules, or any other change in routine, regardless of how minimal

• Minimize transitions

• Offer consistent daily routine: The youngster with ASD must understand each day's routine and know what to expect in order to be able to concentrate on the task at hand

• Provide a predictable and safe environment

Impairment in Social Interaction—

Kids with ASD show an inability to understand complex rules of social interaction; are naive; are extremely egocentric; may not like physical contact; talk at people instead of to them; do not understand jokes, irony or metaphors; use monotone or stilted, unnatural tone of voice; use inappropriate gaze and body language; are insensitive and lack tact; misinterpret social cues; cannot judge "social distance;" exhibit poor ability to initiate and sustain conversation; have well-developed speech but poor communication; are sometimes labeled "little professor" because speaking style is so adult-like and pedantic; are easily taken advantage of (do not perceive that others sometimes lie or trick them); and usually have a desire to be part of the social world.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Programming Suggestions—

• Although they lack personal understanding of the emotions of others, kids with ASD 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. Individuals with ASD must learn social skills intellectually: They lack social instinct and intuition

• Emphasize the proficient academic skills of the youngster with ASD by creating cooperative learning situations in which his or her reading skills, vocabulary, memory and so forth will be viewed as an asset by peers, thereby engendering acceptance

• In the higher age groups, attempt to educate peers about the youngster with ASD when social ineptness is severe by describing his or her social problems as a true disability. Praise classmates when they treat him or her with compassion. This task may prevent scapegoating, while promoting empathy and tolerance in the other kids

• Kids with ASD tend to be reclusive; thus 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 ASD to participate in the conversation of his or her peers not only by soliciting his or her opinions and asking him questions, but also by subtly reinforcing other kids who do the same.

• Most kids with ASD 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 the kids what to say and how to say it. Model two-way interactions and let them role-play. These kids's social judgment improves only after they have been taught rules that others pick up intuitively. One adult with ASD noted that he had learned to "ape human behavior." A college professor with ASD remarked that her quest to understand human interactions made her "feel like an anthropologist from Mars" (Sacks, l993, p.112)

• Older students with ASD might benefit from a "buddy system." The teacher can educate a sensitive nondisabled classmate about the situation of the youngster with ASD and seat them next to each other. The classmate could look out for the youngster with ASD on the bus, during recess, in the hallways and so forth, and attempt to include him or her in school activities.

• Protect the youngster from bullying and teasing

Restricted Range of Interests—

Kids with ASD have eccentric preoccupations or odd, intense fixations (sometimes obsessively collecting unusual things). They tend to relentlessly "lecture" on areas of interest; ask repetitive questions about interests; have trouble letting go of ideas; follow own inclinations regardless of external demands; and sometimes refuse to learn about anything outside their limited field of interest.

Programming Suggestions—

• Do not allow the youngster with ASD to perseveratively discuss or ask questions about isolated interests. Limit this behavior by designating a specific time during the day when the youngster can talk about this. For example: A youngster with ASD who was fixated on animals and had innumerable questions about a class pet turtle knew that he was allowed to ask these questions only during recesses. This was part of his daily routine and he quickly learned to stop himself when he began asking these kinds of questions at other times of the day

• For particularly recalcitrant kids, it may be necessary to initially individualize all assignments around their interest area (e.g., if the interest is dinosaurs, then offer grammar sentences, math word problems and reading and spelling tasks about dinosaurs). Gradually introduce other topics into assignments

• Students can be given assignments that link their interest to the subject being studied. For example, during a social studies unit about a specific country, a youngster obsessed with trains might be assigned to research the modes of transportation used by people in that country

• Some kids with ASD will not want to do assignments outside their area of interest. Firm expectations must be set for completion of classwork. It must be made very clear to the youngster with ASD that he is not in control and that he must follow specific rules. At the same time, however, meet the kids halfway by giving them opportunities to pursue their own interests

• Use of positive reinforcement selectively directed to shape a desired behavior is the critical strategy for helping the youngster with ASD (Dewey, 1991). These kids respond to compliments (e.g., in the case of a relentless question-asker, the teacher might consistently praise him as soon as he pauses and congratulate him for allowing others to speak). These kids should also be praised for simple, expected social behavior that is taken for granted in other kids

• Use the youngster's fixation as a way to broaden his or her repertoire of interests. For instance, during a unit on rain forests, the student with ASD who was obsessed with animals was led to not only study rain forest animals but to also study the forest itself, as this was the animals' home. He was then motivated to learn about the local people who were forced to chop down the animals' forest habitat in order to survive

Poor Concentration—

Kids with ASD are often off task, distracted by internal stimuli; are very disorganized; have difficulty sustaining focus on classroom activities (often it is not that the attention is poor but, rather, that the focus is "odd" ; the individual with ASD cannot figure out what is relevant [Happe, 1991], so attention is focused on irrelevant stimuli); tend to withdrawal into complex inner worlds in a manner much more intense than is typical of daydreaming and have difficulty learning in a group situation.

Programming Suggestions—

• A tremendous amount of regimented external structure must be provided if the youngster with ASD is to be productive in the classroom. Assignments should be broken down into small units, and frequent teacher feedback and redirection should be offered

• If a buddy system is used, sit the youngster's buddy next to him or her so the buddy can remind the youngster with ASD to return to task or listen to the lesson

• In the case of mainstreamed students with ASD, poor concentration, slow clerical speed and severe disorganization may make it necessary to lessen his or her homework/classwork load and/or provide time in a resource room where a special education teacher can provide the additional structure the youngster needs to complete classwork and homework (some kids with ASD are so unable to concentrate that it places undue stress on moms and dads to expect that they spend hours each night trying to get through homework with their youngster)

• Kids with severe concentration problems benefit from timed work sessions. This helps them organize themselves. Classwork that is not completed within the time limit (or that is done carelessly) within the time limit must be made up during the youngster's own time (i.e., during recess or during the time used for pursuit of special interests). Kids with ASD can sometimes be stubborn; they need firm expectations and a structured program that teaches them that compliance with rules leads to positive reinforcement (this kind of program motivates the youngster with ASD to be productive, thus enhancing self-esteem and lowering stress levels, because the youngster sees himself as competent)

• Seat the youngster with ASD at the front of the class and direct frequent questions to him or her to help him or her attend to the lesson

• The teacher must actively encourage the youngster with ASD to leave his or her inner thoughts/ fantasies behind and refocus on the real world. This is a constant battle, as the comfort of that inner world is believed to be much more attractive than anything in real life. For young kids, even free play needs to be structured, because they can become so immersed in solitary, ritualized fantasy play that they lose touch with reality. Encouraging a youngster with ASD to play a board game with one or two others under close supervision not only structures play but offers an opportunity to practice social skills

• Work out a nonverbal signal with the youngster (e.g., a gentle pat on the shoulder) for times when he or she is not attending

Poor Motor Coordination—

Kids with ASD are physically clumsy and awkward; have stiff, awkward gaits; are unsuccessful in games involving motor skills; and experience fine-motor deficits that can cause penmanship problems, slow clerical speed and affect their ability to draw.

Programming Suggestions—

• Do not push the youngster to participate in competitive sports, as his or her poor motor coordination may only invite frustration and the teasing of team members. The youngster with ASD lacks the social understanding of coordinating one's own actions with those of others on a team

• Individuals with ASD may need more than their peers to complete exams (taking exams in the resource room not only offer more time but would also provide the added structure and teacher redirection these kids need to focus on the task at hand)

• Involve the youngster with ASD in a health/fitness curriculum in physical education, rather than in a competitive sports program

• Kids with ASD may require a highly individualized cursive program that entails tracing and copying on paper, coupled with motor patterning on the blackboard. The teacher guides the youngster's hand repeatedly through the formation of letters and letter connections and also uses a verbal script. Once the youngster commits the script to memory, he or she can talk himself or herself through letter formations independently

• Refer the youngster with ASD for adaptive physical education program if gross motor problems are severe

• When assigning timed units of work, make sure the youngster's slower writing speed is taken into account

• Younger kids with ASD benefit from guidelines drawn on paper that help them control the size and uniformity of the letters they write. This also forces them to take the time to write carefully

Academic Difficulties—

Kids with ASD usually have average to above-average intelligence (especially in the verbal sphere) but lack high level thinking and comprehension skills. They tend to be very literal: Their images are concrete, and abstraction is poor. Their pedantic speaking style and impressive vocabularies give the false impression that they understand what they are talking about, when in reality they are merely parroting what they have heard or read. The youngster with ASD frequently has an excellent rote memory, but it is mechanical in nature; that is, the youngster may respond like a video that plays in set sequence. Problem-solving skills are poor.

Programming Suggestions—

• Academic work may be of poor quality because the youngster with ASD is not motivated to exert effort in areas in which he or she is not interested. Very firm expectations must be set for the quality of work produced. Work executed within timed periods must be not only complete but done carefully. The youngster with ASD should be expected to correct poorly executed classwork during recess or during the time he or she usually pursues his or her own interests

• Capitalize on these individuals' exceptional memory: Retaining factual information is frequently their forte

• Do not assume that kids with ASD understand something just because they parrot back what they have heard

• Emotional nuances, multiple levels of meaning, and relationship issues as presented in novels will often not be understood

• Kids with ASD often have excellent reading recognition skills, but language comprehension is weak. Do not assume they understand what they so fluently read

• Offer added explanation and try to simplify when lesson concepts are abstract

• Provide a highly individualized academic program engineered to offer consistent successes. The youngster with ASD needs great motivation to not follow his or her own impulses. Learning must be rewarding and not anxiety-provoking

• The writing assignments of individuals with ASD are often repetitious, flit from one subject to the next, and contain incorrect word connotations. These kids frequently do not know the difference between general knowledge and personal ideas and therefore assume the teacher will understand their sometimes abstruse expressions

Emotional Vulnerability—

Kids with ASD have the intelligence to compete in regular education but they often do not have the emotional resources to cope with the demands of the classroom. These kids are easily stressed due to their inflexibility. Self-esteem is low, and they are often very self-critical and unable to tolerate making mistakes. Individuals with ASD, especially adolescents, may be prone to depression (a high percentage of depression in adults with ASD has been documented). Rage reactions/temper outbursts are common in response to stress/frustration. Kids with ASD rarely seem relaxed and are easily overwhelmed when things are not as their rigid views dictate they should be. Interacting with people and coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life take continual Herculean effort.

Programming Suggestions—

• Affect as reflected in the teacher's voice should be kept to a minimum. Be calm, predictable, and matter-of-fact in interactions with the youngster with ASD, while clearly indicating compassion and patience. Hans Asperger (1991), the psychiatrist for whom this syndrome is named, remarked that "the teacher who does not understand that it is necessary to teach kids [with ASD] seemingly obvious things will feel impatient and irritated" (p.57); Do not expect the youngster with ASD to acknowledge that he or she is sad/ depressed. In the same way that they cannot perceive the feelings of others, these kids can also be unaware of their own feelings. They often cover up their depression and deny its symptoms

• Be aware that adolescents with ASD are especially prone to depression. Social skills are highly valued in adolescence and the student with ASD realizes he or she is different and has difficulty forming normal relationships. Academic work often becomes more abstract, and the adolescent with ASD finds assignments more difficult and complex. In one case, teachers noted that an adolescent with ASD was no longer crying over math assignments and therefore believed that he was coping much better. In reality, his subsequent decreased organization and productivity in math was believed to be function of his escaping further into his inner world to avoid the math, and thus he was not coping well at all

• It is critical that adolescents with ASD who are mainstreamed have an identified support staff member with whom they can check in at least once daily. This person can assess how well he or she is coping by meeting with him or her daily and gathering observations from other teachers

• Kids with ASD must receive academic assistance as soon as difficulties in a particular area are noted. These kids are quickly overwhelmed and react much more severely to failure than do other kids

• Kids with ASD who are very fragile emotionally may need placement in a highly structured special education classroom that can offer individualized academic program. These kids require a learning environment in which they see themselves as competent and productive. Accordingly, keeping them in the mainstream, where they cannot grasp concepts or complete assignments, serves only to lower their self-concept, increase their withdrawal, and set the stage for a depressive disorder. (In some situations, a personal aide can be assigned to the youngster with ASD rather than special education placement. The aide offers affective support, structure and consistent feedback.)

• Prevent outbursts by offering a high level of consistency. Prepare these kids for changes in daily routine, to lower stress (see "Resistance to Change" section). Kids with ASD frequently become fearful, angry, and upset in the face of forced or unexpected changes

• Report symptoms to the youngster's therapist or make a mental health referral so that the youngster can be evaluated for depression and receive treatment if this is needed. Because these kids are often unable to assess their own emotions and cannot seek comfort from others, it is critical that depression be diagnosed quickly

• Teach the kids how to cope when stress overwhelms him or her, to prevent outbursts. Help the youngster write a list of very concrete steps that can be followed when he or she becomes upset (e.g., 1-Breathe deeply three times; 2-Count the fingers on your right hand slowly three times; 3-Ask to see the special education teacher, etc.). Include a ritualized behavior that the youngster finds comforting on the list. Write these steps on a card that is placed in the youngster's pocket so that they are always readily available

• Teachers must be alert to changes in behavior that may indicate depression, such as even greater levels of disorganization, inattentiveness, and isolation; decreased stress threshold; chronic fatigue; crying; suicidal remarks; and so on. Do not accept the youngster's assessment in these cases that he or she is "OK"

Kids with ASD are so easily overwhelmed by environmental stressors, and have such profound impairment in the ability to form interpersonal relationships, that it is no wonder they give the impression of "fragile vulnerability and a pathetic childishness" (Wing, 1981, p. 117). Everard (1976) wrote that when these youngsters are compared with their nondisabled peers, "one is instantly aware of how different they are and the enormous effort they have to make to live in a world where no concessions are made and where they are expected to conform" (p.2).

Teachers can play a vital role in helping kids with ASD learn to negotiate the world around them. Because kids with ASD are frequently unable to express their fears and anxieties, it is up to significant adults to make it worthwhile for them to leave their safe inner fantasy lives for the uncertainties of the external world. Professionals who work with these youngsters in schools must provide the external structure, organization, and stability that they lack. Using creative teaching strategies with individuals suffering from ASD is critical, not only to facilitate academic success, but also to help them feel less alienated from other human beings and less overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of everyday life.

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

General Points to Consider—

1. An increase in unusual or difficult behaviors probably indicates an increase in stress for the ASD student. Sometimes stress is caused by feeling a loss of control. Many times the stress will only be alleviated when the student physically removes himself from the stressful event or situation. If this occurs, a program should be set up to assist the student in re-entering and/or staying in the stressful situation. When this occurs, a "safe-place" or "safe-person" may come in handy.

2. Do not take misbehavior personally. The high-functioning person with ASD is not a manipulative, scheming person who is trying to make life difficult. They are seldom, if ever, capable of being manipulative. Usually misbehavior is the result of efforts to survive experiences which may be confusing, disorienting or frightening. People with ASD are, by virtue of their disability, egocentric. Most have extreme difficulty reading the reactions of others.

3. People with ASD have problems with abstract and conceptual thinking. Some may eventually acquire abstract skills, but others never will. When abstract concepts must be used, use visual cues, such as drawings or written words, to augment the abstract idea. Avoid asking vague questions such as, "Why did you do that?" Instead, say, "I did not like it when you slammed your book down when I said it was time for gym. Next time, put the book down gently and tell me you are angry. Were you showing me that you did not want to go to gym, or that you did not want to stop reading?" Avoid asking essay-type questions. Be as concrete as possible in all your interactions with these students.

4. People with ASD have trouble with organizational skills, regardless of their intelligence and/or age. Even a "straight A" student with ASD who has a photographic memory can be incapable of remembering to bring a pencil to class or of remembering a deadline for an assignment. In such cases, aid should be provided in the least restrictive way possible. Strategies could include having the student put a picture of a pencil on the cover of his notebook or maintaining a list of assignments to be completed at home. Always praise the student when he remembers something he has previously forgotten. Never denigrate or "harp" at him when he fails. A lecture on the subject will not only NOT help, it will often make the problem worse. He may begin to believe he cannot remember to do or bring these things. These students seem to have either the neatest or the messiest desks or lockers in the school. The one with the messiest desk will need your help in frequent cleanups of the desk or locker so that he can find things. Simply remember that he is probably not making a conscious choice to be messy. He is most likely incapable of this organizational task without specific training. Attempt to train him in organizational skills using small, specific steps.

5. Use and interpret speech literally. Until you know the capabilities of the individual, you should avoid:

o "cute" names (e.g., Pal, Buddy, Wise Guy)
o double meanings (most jokes have double meanings)
o idioms (e.g., save your breath, jump the gun, second thoughts)
o nicknames
o sarcasm (e.g., saying, "Great!" after he has just spilled a bottle of ketchup on the table)

6. Assume nothing when assessing skills. For example, the individual with ASD may be a "math whiz" in Algebra, but not able to make simple change at a cash register. Or, he may have an incredible memory about books he has read, speeches he has heard or sports statistics, but still may not be able to remember to bring a pencil to class. Uneven skills development is a hallmark of ASD.

7. Avoid verbal overload. Be clear. Use shorter sentences if you perceive that the student does not fully understanding you. Although he probably has no hearing problem and may be paying attention, he may have difficulty understanding your main point and identifying important information.

8. Be aware that normal levels of auditory and visual input can be perceived by the student as too much or too little. For example, the hum of florescent lighting is extremely distracting for some people with ASD. Consider environmental changes such as removing "visual clutter" from the room or seating changes if the student seems distracted or upset by his classroom environment.

9. Behavior management works, but if incorrectly used, it can encourage robot-like behavior, provide only a short term behavior change or result in some form of aggression. Use positive and chronologically age-appropriate behavior procedures.

10. Consistent treatment and expectations from everyone is vital.

11. If the student does not seem to be learning a task, break it down into smaller steps or present the task in several ways (e.g., visually, verbally, and physically).

12. If your class involves pairing off or choosing partners, either draw numbers or use some other arbitrary means of pairing. Or ask an especially kind student if he or she would agree to choose the individual with ASD as a partner before the pairing takes place. The student with ASD is most often the individual left with no partner. This is unfortunate since these students could benefit most from having a partner.

13. If your high-functioning student with ASD uses repetitive verbal arguments and/or repetitive verbal questions you need to interrupt what can become a continuing, repetitive litany. Continually responding in a logical manner or arguing back seldom stops this behavior. The subject of the argument or question is not always the subject which has upset him. More often the individual is communicating a feeling of loss of control or uncertainty about someone or something in the environment. Try requesting that he write down the question or argumentative statement. Then write down your reply. This usually begins to calm him down and stops the repetitive activity. If that doesn't work, write down his repetitive question or argument and ask him to write down a logical reply (perhaps one he thinks you would make). This distracts from the escalating verbal aspect of the situation and may give him a more socially acceptable way of expressing frustration or anxiety. Another alternative is role-playing the repetitive argument or question with you taking his part and having him answer you as he thinks you might.

14. Prepare the student for all environmental and/or changes in routine such as assembly, substitute teacher and rescheduling. Use a written or visual schedule to prepare him for change.

15. Remember that facial expressions and other social cues may not work. Most individuals with ASD have difficulty reading facial expressions and interpreting “body language”.

16. Since these individuals experience various communication difficulties, do not rely on students with ASD to relay important messages to their moms and dads about school events, assignments, school rules, etc., unless you try it on an experimental basis with follow-up or unless you are already certain that the student has mastered this skill. Even sending home a note for his moms and dads may not work. The student may not remember to deliver the note or may lose it before reaching home. Phone calls to moms and dads work best until the skill can be developed. Frequent and accurate communication between the teacher and parent (or primary care-giver) is very important.

Bullet Points—

Definition of ASD:

• Language, self-care skills and adaptive behavior and curiosity about environment show normal development up to 3 years of age.
• Qualitative abnormality in reciprocal social interaction and circumscribed interests and repetitive, stereotyped patterns of activities.

In Summary—

• Anxiety increases quickly
• Have narrow interests
• Perfectionist
• Rule and routine bound
• Sensory Issues
• They are smart
• They do not know what to say
• Uncoordinated
• Want things their way


• Academic Skills
• Medical Evaluation
• Motor and Sensory Skills
• Social and Play Skills
• Speech and Language Skills

Academic Evaluation—

• Clumsy
• Handwriting is often poor
• Knowledge based subjects may be a strength
• Math may or may not be weak
• Organization skills are weak
• Writing creative sentences is difficult.

Classroom Accommodations—

• Put the following in the binder: Assignment Notebook, Take-Home folder, Give to the Teacher folder, Homework folder, Extra’s pocket, labels, reinforcements, paper.
• Students with AS need more time than other students to learn how to keep track of work, due dates, notes, etc.
• Take to school and home every day!

The Assignment Notebook—

• Establishes a routine
• Everyone checks it!!!!!
• Informs moms and dads
• Keeps the student organized
• Notifies of schedule changes
• Provides for planning ahead
• Teaches responsibility


• Amount
• Busy work
• Check for understanding
• Divide into sections
• Purpose
• Written directions


• Copy of test
• List of topics and terms
• Multiple choice
• No Fill-in or T/F
• Nothing NEW!
• Oral exams
• Practice test
• Teacher-provided outline


• Ability to formulate ideas and transfer to written form may be impaired
• Print
• Reduce emphasis on neatness
• The best way to assess your youngster’s actual knowledge of a subject or proficiency in self-expression may be to write for him/her or use assistive technology
• Try Handwriting Without Tears program

Writing is difficult—

• Fine motor problems and difficulty creating language make writing creative sentences difficult
• Use Assistive Technology

1. Be his secretary
2. Use tape recorders or computers
3. Alphasmart
4. Co Writer
5. Write: Out Loud
6. Voice activated problems

Cut and Enlarge:

• Attach to graph paper
• Cut into sections
• Don’t do all at once
• Enlarge worksheets

Home-School Communication—

• Change in Routine Notification
• Communication Notebook
• Picture Charts
• Support Services

Speech and Language Evaluation—

• Language skills-syntax and vocabulary
• Pragmatics
• Speech-articulation, voice and fluency

Pragmatic Disorder—

• Decreased understanding and use of gestures
• Decreased use of questions
• Difficulty maintaining a conversation
• Lack of understanding about the reciprocity of verbal and nonverbal communication

Language Disorder—

• Sometimes language learning is precocious
• Style of learning language may be like an autistic youngster: echolalia, difficulty learning pronouns, difficulty understanding verbal explanations
• There must be words by 2 years and phrases by 3 years


• Preschool Language Scale-4
• Clinical Evaluation of Language
• The Test of Language Development
• Expressive One Word Vocabulary Test
• Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test

Language Test Scores Show an Unusual Profile—

• Highest scores are in expressive vocabulary
• Next highest are in receptive vocabulary
• Next are in grammatical structures
• Often below average are tests of problem solving
• Lowest area is in pragmatic language skills

Difficulty with Higher Level Language Functions—

• Understanding idioms, figurative language
• Understanding sarcasm
• Understanding verbal explanations
• Understanding what is being asked in When, Why, How, What if questions

Speech Disorders—

• Articulation disorders – same as in all kids
• Fluency – same as in all kids
• Often there is a prosody difference in the melody and intonation and pitch

Do Speech Therapy If the youngster with ASD:

• Does not understand what is being asked by “where,” “who,” and “when”
• Has difficulty carrying on a reciprocal conversation
• Has low language scores

Effective Strategies to Teach Higher Level Language Skills:

• Traditional language therapy to teach specific language skills including questions, pronouns, and direction concepts
• Use Fast ForWord to speed up auditory processing
• Use materials such as Linguisystems to teach idioms, problem solving, etc

Effective Strategies to Teach Pragmatic Language:

• Carol Gray’s Social Language Stories
• Coaching During Social Times
• Reciprocal Conversation with Therapist
• Role Playing
• Social Language Groups
• Videotaping

Techniques That Work in Social Language Groups:

• Coaching
• Give Visual Prompts
• Keep Anxiety Low
• Scripting and Rehearsal
• Teach Flexibility
• Teach Question Asking
• Use Their Interests

Scripting and Rehearsal—

Give the youngster the exact words to say:

• Say, “Dad, I want to go to the store”
• Say, “Joe, it’s my turn”
• Say, “Teacher, I need help”


• Have the youngster practice
• Show and tell the youngster what to do
• Teach the protocol of the activity

Getting Points: Make it very clear what he is to work on in the group such as:

• Asking questions
• Be explicit about getting points means you are doing it right
• Following someone else’s rule
• Give compliments
• Sharing

Teach Flexibility:


• Let him be red and explain to the others that maybe next time he can let someone else be red, but it is too hard to change today.
• If two want RED, let them share turns
• If the argument persists then you can either give in or let him wait until it is his turn to be RED.

“I have to win!”

• Make losing, fun.


• Announce that we can either argue for a long time or play. Which would you rather do?
• Are you having fun yet?
• Whoever “compromises” gets a star.


• Teach the rule: If you compromise, you are doing right.
• Compromise means letting the other guy have his way.
• If you let the other guy have his way, you get a point.


• They turn the other kids off by being bossy, controlling and judgmental.
• They lose a point (or a turn) for teasing criticizing another youngster.
• They get extra points for saying something nice.

If the youngster starts out saying several nice things, he is not teased as much.

Use Visual Aids—

• Be Sure To Include “Things might change.”
• Get Them Hooked On Lists
• Plan It Together
• This Takes Away The Unexpected
• Visual Charts
• Written Lists

What To Do with Anxiety—

• STOP the activity
• Ensure safety
• Decrease the causes of the anxiety
• Medication
• Reestablish calmness
• Then REHEARSE it using coaching, enticing, and “sweeten it up.”

Social Language Groups
Goal: Engage in Reciprocal Communication

• Make friends
• Play together
• Talk to each


• Find a time to meet regularly, usually once a week.
• Have the youngster participate in the decisions.
• Rehearse game protocol in individual sessions.
• Select 3 or 4 kids who are compatible in age and language level and interests.

Beginning the Groups:

• Start by saying that we will make a list of activities for the day.
• First they sit at the table.
• Then the list is written (or pictured) and activities are crossed off as they are finished.
• At the end we often summarize the activities emphasizing the good behaviors they displayed.

Determine the Level of Social Communication—

What Do They Do When They Play?

• Argue and are bossy and gives commands
• Difficulty understanding feedback
• Has to win
• Monologues
• Play by themselves or next to each other

Level One:

• They Start Out With Parallel Play
• Use Scripting and Rehearsal

Teach Rule: Take Turns.

Level Two:

• They Start With Simple Turn Taking Games
• Use Activities With Simple Winning

Teach Rule: Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose.

Level Three:

• They Have To Control, Argue, Are Bossy
• Use Activities That Need A Little Discussion

Teach Rule: Say Things That Invite A Response – Talk To Make Friends.

Level Four:

• They Monologue
• Use Structured Conversation

Teach Rule: Say Two Things and Then Ask A Question.

Level Five:

• They Do Not Give Or Get Feedback
• Use Conversation

Teach Rule: Look At Your Listener. Learn What The Other Person Is Feeling.

Tasks that will need adaptation:

• Breaks
• Circle of friends
• Communication with moms and dads
• Lunch
• Organization
• Recess
• Staying on task
• Verbal explanations


• The key to academic and social success for students with ASD is TEAM WORK!

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


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