Skills and Deficits Associated with Students on the Spectrum

“I am an elementary school teacher. I have a student diagnosed with high functioning autism this year (5th grade). What are some of the positive attributes associated with this disorder that I can capitalize on? And what are some of the autism-related challenges that I will need to be aware of? Thank you in advance!”

Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) definitely have certain skills, for example:
  • Many have exceptional musical ability
  • They tend to have excellent rote memories
  • They often become “experts” in one or two subjects (e.g., prehistoric monsters, history of steam trains, geology, genealogy of royalty, characters in a television serial, bus time-tables, astronomy, etc.)
  • They often excel at board games needing a good rote memory (e.g., chess)
  • They usually absorb every available fact concerning their chosen interest and can talk about it at length

HFA children also have a few deficits that teachers will need to consider, for example:
  • Some have specific learning problems (e.g., affecting arithmetical skills, reading or writing)
  • They can become hyper-focused on a particular topic – to the exclusion of all else (it’s this exclusionary component that often causes academic problems)
  • They may talk about their special interests at length, whether or not the listener is interested, but have little grasp of the meaning of the facts they learn
  • Many have difficulty with communication skills, especially as it relates to reading non-verbal cues
  • Most have a significant degree of social skills deficits

This combination of social skills deficits, communication problems, and certain special skills gives an impression of marked eccentricity. These young people may be mercilessly bullied at school, and as a result become anxious and fearful. Those who are more fortunate in the schools they attend may be accepted as “little professors” and respected for their unusual abilities.

Unfortunately, HFA sometimes describes these children as unsatisfactory students, because they follow their own interests regardless of the teacher's instructions and the activities of the rest of the class. However, teachers can capitalize on this trait and use it as a teaching tool (click here for more information).

Many of these students eventually become aware that they are different from their peers, especially as they approach the teenage years. As a result, they may become overly-sensitive to criticism. Also, they often give the impression of fragile vulnerability along with a heart-rending childishness (in other words, their emotional age often does not match their chronological age).

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


Anonymous said... intelligence, ability to grasp linear problems and challenges, ability to notice patterns, negatives, well it depends on the individual, my hfa gets so frustrated that his peers are so 'stupid' and tend to get aggressive, the major challenge for me and his teachers has been to try to teach him patience and from my point of view, trying to teach him to make calculations about how others are feeling, because he doesn't have an intrinsic knowledge of facial and vocal cues

Anonymous said... 5th grade was a tough year for my son. I really appreciate and admire your willingness to embrace him as a student. My son had a problem with the increased social dynamics and he does not do well in groups. Same things as Ruby Slippers. I think working with his parents if possible to recognize your student's triggers and individual strengths would help.

Anonymous said... I wish more teacher were just like this woman. My son wasnt diagnosed until 5th grade and sometimes i feel like a broken record talking to all of his teachers every year since. Sometimes i feel like I'm their only source of info on the topic. Surely they can take a moment to educate themselves a little too! Lol

danalynn said...I definitely see my 5th grade HFA son in these descriptions. Normally compliant, he outright refuses to do group work at school because he either gets super frustrated with how "slow" he others are, or super frustrated because he cannot keep up. He definitely needs specific instruction at times to understand others. One of the most frequent points is when he sees peers breaking the rules, he very much feels obliged to tell an adult, even for minor points that aren't doing any harm. He recently got in trouble when he "cheated" on a math assignment: he asked another child for help and that student handed over his paper and said, "Here, just copy mine." My kiddo was so stunned and bewildered that he obliged, but kind of knew it wasn't right and simply could not process it all in his head and respond in another way. Taking time to debrief events like this at home is key. At this age, the quirkiness from his sensory processing challenges are standing out more and he is wanting to give more attention to doing OT to see if improvements can be made. We will be working with the school to create a multi-step transition plan for middle school, complete with multiple observations/shadowing, helping him build a connection with an "anchor" adult in that building, practice with changing classes, etc.

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