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Part 9: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Poor Concentration

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA):
  • are easily distracted by internal stimuli
  • are often off task
  • are very disorganized
  • have difficulty figuring out what is relevant, so attention is focused on irrelevant stimuli
  • have difficulty learning in a group situation
  • have difficulty sustaining focus on classroom activities (often it is not that the attention is poor but, rather, that the focus is "odd")
  • tend to withdraw into complex inner worlds in a manner much more intense than is typical of daydreaming

Programming Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Work out a nonverbal signal with the AS or HFA youngster (e.g., a gentle pat on the shoulder) for times when he is not paying attention.

2. Actively encourage the youngster to leave her inner thoughts and fantasies behind and refocus on the real world. This is a constant battle, as the comfort of that inner world is much more attractive than anything in real life. For these “special needs” kids, even free play needs to be structured, because they can become so immersed in solitary, ritualized fantasy play that they lose touch with reality.

3. Seat the youngster at the front of the class and direct frequent questions to him to help him attend to the lesson.

4. AS and HFA kids with severe concentration problems benefit from timed work sessions. This helps them organize themselves. Classwork that is not completed within the time limit (or that is done carelessly) must be made up during the youngster's own time (i.e., during recess or during the time used for pursuit of special interests).

5. Young people on the autism spectrum can sometimes be stubborn. Therefore, they need firm expectations and a structured program that teaches them that compliance with rules leads to positive reinforcement. Such programs motivate the youngster to be productive, thus enhancing self-esteem and lowering stress levels, because the youngster sees herself as competent.

6. In the case of mainstreamed AS and HFA students, poor concentration, slow clerical speed, and severe disorganization may make it necessary to lessen the homework load, classwork load, and provide time in a resource room where a special education teacher can offer the additional structure the youngster needs to complete classwork and homework. Some kids with AS and HFA are so unable to concentrate that it places undue stress on moms and dads to expect that they spend hours each night trying to get through homework with their youngster.

7. If a buddy system is used, sit the AS or HFA youngster's buddy next to him so the buddy can remind the youngster to return to task or listen to the lesson.

8. Encouraging the youngster with AS and HFA to play a board game with one or two others under close supervision not only structures play, but offers an opportunity to practice social skills.

9. A tremendous amount of regimented external structure must be provided if the youngster with AS and HFA is to be productive in the classroom. Assignments should be broken down into small units, and frequent teacher feedback and redirection should be offered.

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