Does My Student Have An Autism Spectrum Disorder?

“I teach the first grade at East Side Elementary in my hometown. I currently have a student who I suspect may be a high functioning autistic (Asperger). What are some of the telltale signs to look for, and should I mention this to the parents?”

A good first step would be to ask the parents how well their child functioned prior to elementary school. Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) frequently enter kindergarten without having been adequately diagnosed. In most cases, there will have been some red flags in the preschool years, for example:
  • the youngster may have be viewed as being somewhat unusual
  • concern over "immature" social skills and peer interactions
  • behavioral concerns such as hyperactivity, inattention, aggression, outbursts, etc.

If these problems are more severe, special education may be suggested now, but most kids with AS and HFA do fairly well in a mainstream setting.

Often, academic progress in the early grades is an area of relative strength (e.g., rote reading is usually quite good, calculation skills may be similarly strong). However, writing skills are often considerably weaker. The teacher will probably be struck by the youngster's "obsessive" areas of interest, which often intrude in the classroom setting.

Most AS and HFA kids will show some social interest in their peers (although it may be reduced). However, they are likely to show weak friend-making and friend-keeping skills. They may show particular interest in one or two peers around them, but usually the depth of their interactions will be relatively superficial. On the other hand, a number of kids with AS and HFA present as pleasant and "nice," particularly when interacting with adults.

The course through elementary school for AS and HFA students will vary considerably from youngster to youngster, and overall problems can range from mild and easily managed to severe and intractable, depending upon factors such as:
  • appropriateness of management at school
  • parenting at home
  • temperamental style of the youngster
  • the presence or absence of complicating factors (e.g., hyperactivity/attentional problems, anxiety, learning problems
  • the youngster's intelligence level

In any event, if you suspect that your student may have an autism spectrum disorder, then you should indeed share your concerns with the parents so they can seek a formal assessment.

As one mother of an HFA child states:  

"YES, YES!!! Tell the parents and have a printout of the behaviors that are attributed to AS and HFA. I wish the teachers and coaches that suspected it would have talked to me. I didn't get my son diagnosed until he was 11, and is not buying into any counseling or therapy. Life has improved dramatically for us, but he would have been better off if we had started sooner. You may want to check with the school counselor what is the best way to approach your suspicion with the parents. Good luck and thank you for being such a caring teacher!!"

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

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...