Assisting the Peer-Rejected Student: Tips for Teachers of Kids of the Spectrum

Playing and conversing with classmates is a daily routine for school-aged kids. But children with ASD (Aspergers, High Functioning Autism) are often isolated and rejected by their peers. Their problems making and keeping a “buddy” are exacerbated by their poor social skills.

The sensitive educator should realize that kids go to school for a living. School is their job, their livelihood, and their identity. Thus, the crucial role that teachers play in the youngster's social development and self-concept should not be under-estimated. Even if a youngster is enjoying “academic success,” her attitude about school will be determined by the degree of “social success” she experiences.

There is much that the educator can do to promote social development in the special needs child. Kids tend to fall into four basic social categories in the school environment:
  1. Children who, although not openly rejected, are ignored by peers and are uninvolved in the social aspects of school.
  2. Children who have successfully established positive relationships within a variety of social settings.
  3. Children who “fit-in” with a peer-group based on common interests, but seldom move beyond that group.
  4. Children who are consistently rejected, bullied and harassed by peers.

Many children with ASD find themselves in the rejected/bullied subgroup. Their reputations as being rather “odd” plague them over the years. It is important for the educator to assist the youngster’s peers in changing their view of this boy or girl.

Discipline is a rather ineffective method of correcting bullying or rejecting behavior. For example, if the teacher disciplines Michael for insulting Ronnie, she only increases Michael's resentment of Ronnie. But, the teacher can increase Michael’s level of acceptance in several ways. Here’s how:

1. Assign the youngster to work in pairs with a “socially skilled” youngster who will be accepting and supportive. Cooperative activities can be especially effective in the effort to include the rejected youngster in class. These activities enable the youngster to use her academic strengths while simultaneously developing her social skills.

2. Assign the rejected youngster to a leadership position in class wherein his peers become dependent on him (e.g., line leader). This can serve to increase his status and acceptance. However, understand that this may be an unfamiliar role for the student, and he may require some guidance from the teacher in order to ensure success.

3. Attempt to determine specific interests, hobbies or strengths of the rejected youngster. This can be accomplished through discussions, interviews or surveys. Once the teacher has identified the youngster's strengths, celebrate it in a very public manner. For example, if the child has a particular interest in Indian wood carvings, find a ‘read-aloud’ adventure story in which an Indian plays an important role in the plot. Encourage the youngster to bring a couple of his Indian wood carvings to class and show how they were made. By playing the expert role, a rejected youngster can greatly increase his status.

4. Board and card games can be used to foster social development in class. These activities require children to utilize a variety of social skills (e.g., voice modulation, taking turns, sportsmanship, dealing with competition, etc.). These activities can also be used to promote academic skills. Since games are often motivating for children, this activity can be used as positive reinforcement.


5. Educators at the high school level must be particularly aware of the teen that is being rejected by peers. During the teenage years, it is very important that the youngster be accepted by his peers. The rejection suffered by teens with social skill deficits often places them at risk for emotional problems.

6. The child with social skill deficits invariably experiences rejection in any activity that requires children to select classmates for teams or groups. This selection process generally finds the rejected youngster in the awkward position of being the "last one picked." Avoid these humiliating situations by pre-selecting the teams or drawing names from a hat.

7. The educator can assist the youngster by making him aware of the traits that are widely-accepted and admired by his peers (e.g., when a particular child converses, extends invitations, gives compliments, greets others, laughs, shares, smiles, tells jokes, etc.).

8. The educator needs to recognize the critical role that the youngster's mom and dad – and even siblings – can play in the development of social competency. Ask the youngster’s mother or father to visit school for a conference to discuss the child’s social status and needs. School and home must work in concert to ensure that target skills are reinforced and monitored. Social goals should be listed and prioritized. Focus on a small set of social skills (e.g., making eye contact, sharing, and taking turns) rather than trying to deal simultaneously with the entire inventory of social skills.

9. The educator should demonstrate acceptance of - and affection for - the rejected youngster. This conveys the constant message that this youngster is worthy of attention. The educator can use her status as a leader to increase the status of the youngster.

10. The socially incompetent youngster often experiences isolation and rejection in his neighborhood, on the school bus, and in peer-group activities. The educator can provide this child with a learning environment wherein he can feel comfortable, accepted and welcome. Coming to school every day can become a helpless event for some kids on the spectrum – unless they succeed at what they do. Educators are shields against that helplessness.


•    Mama said... I have always known this but getting teachers to get on board in public schools is nearly imposible. I'm so happy that Mark Hutten has brought this up. Sincerely, Marie Donily
•    Unknown said... Hello, this website has become one of our most informative sites for information. Our 13-year-old was just "transferred" to an alternative behavior school because of lack of understanding on teachers' parts. Now he is feeling punished because lack of understanding of his diagnosis
•    MartinKids said... I actually have the opposite problem- my 2nd grade son is receiving wonderful support and has plenty of 'playmates' at school. However, all of the children on our block have ostracized him and taunt him whenever he goes out in front(often in front of me!) The parents are either contributing to the stigma or are totally clueless. I would LOVE to read an article on how to handle this situation!
•    MartinKids said... I have the opposite problem with my 2nd grade son. He receives excellent support and has made several playmates at school. However, all of the kids on our block have ostracized him almost since we moved in. They ignore him and taunt him whenever he plays out front (even in front of me!) and their parents either seem to contribute to his stigma or are totally clueless. He seems to be handling this rejection well now, but I worry about how this treatment will affect him in middle school. I would LOVE to see an article offering tips for this situation!
•    Kelly said... You may not get this reply as I see you posted over three years ago but I'm having the same problem. Did you figure anything out?
•    MartinKids said... Unfortunately nothing ever resolved, just time went on, the two families we had the most issues with moved away and the new families have much younger children. My son does not interact very much with the kids that are left as he homeschools now and and they attend public school. Sadly, by the end of fourth grade he was already starting to be excluded and treated differently, so we pulled him out to homeschool him with his siblings. The kids in our main social group are more accepting of him, although he only has one good friend the others don't pick on him. Even more disappointing is his involvement with Boy Scouts, the adults were actually super caring and willing to accommodate his needs but the boys excluded him.:( I am incredibly thankful for our homeschooling friends who love him and have taught their children to be kind even if they aren't super close to him. :)


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