Part 3: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – The “Hidden Curriculum”

Curriculum education is not the only education an Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autistic ((HFA) 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.

The “hidden curriculum” consists of important social skills that everyone knows, but no one is taught. This includes assumed rules, student expectations, idioms and metaphors. Understanding the hidden curriculum is difficult for all kids, but it is especially so for young people with AS and HFA who have deficits in social interactions.

The following example illustrates the difficulty children on the autism spectrum have understanding the hidden curriculum:

Michael was a popular ninth-grader, despite his social awkwardness. His classmates accepted him and were understanding of his disorder. One day Michael was hanging out with his peers in the hallway before class when his friend Jamie began swearing in disappointment about his D in math. Michael picked up on the swearing and associated it with disappointment. The bell rang and Michael went on to his next class. As he sat down, Michael realized that he left his history book in his locker. His teacher, Mr. Williams, would not let him go back to his locker, and immediately Michael got mad and began using cuss words. Mr. Williams sent Michael to the dean’s office, leaving Michael mystified about what he did wrong. He thought it was acceptable to cuss when he was disappointed at school. Michael did not understand the hidden curriculum – swearing may be acceptable around peers, but you should never curse when a teacher is present.

The hidden curriculum suggests an aspect of learning that is not obvious to students with AS and HFA. This aspect of learning includes the basic how-to's of daily functioning. These are things that other students seem to just know. The social know-how that tells “typical” students what is inappropriate subject matter may be foreign to an AS or HFA student. Thus, teachers should instruct students struggling in this realm through the use of acting lessons, direct instruction, scope and sequence, self-esteem building, and social stories. Social stories and acting lessons give examples of proper behaviors in various public settings.

More information on creating social stories can be found here: How To Write Social Stories

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

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