Part 6: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Insistence on Sameness

Insistence on sameness is a core feature of autism spectrum disorders, characterized by compulsive adherence to routine, and stereotyped, repetitive behaviors. This makes it hard for children on the autism spectrum to adjust to the ever-changing demands of their environment. Their preference for sameness is typically accompanied by significant distress when a preferred activity is interrupted, resulting in serious behavioral management problems.

It is possible that the brain systems responsible for changing from repetitive behaviors to more flexible ones are impaired in children on the spectrum. On the other hand, these children may not recognize or respond to external cues or rewards intended to promote changes in behavior. Understanding the brain systems involved in changing behavior and their dysfunction will ultimately help guide treatment for this understudied – yet disabling aspect – of autism spectrum disorders.

Young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) 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 for teachers:

1. Provide a predictable and safe environment for the AS or HFA student.

2. Offer consistent daily routine. The “special needs” youngster must understand each day's routine and know what to expect in order to be able to concentrate on the task at hand.

3. Minimize transitions as much as possible.

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

5. 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 AS or HFA youngster 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.

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