Teaching the High-Functioning Autistic Mind

"I’d love to see some information about how to teach in a way that a high functioning autistic mind will absorb, particularly rote facts such as math measurements and such. I’d also love more information about teaching basic social skills, manners, and social graces."

Children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's have excellent rote memories and often show intense interest in one or two intellectual areas, such as math, transportation, history, or the characters in a television series.

Sometimes the special interest is so absorbing that they ignore all other subjects. They learn every fact about the chosen topic and talk about it endlessly, whether or not their listeners are interested. The child may have little understanding of the meaning of these facts.

But, if you can tie rote information into the area of interest, you may find it easy to teach him or her - and the learning will be remembered. For example, if the child is interested in transportation, you might be able to involve him in measuring the length of railroad tracks or distances airplanes travel on various routes.

Often using a computer and rote learning computer games helps kids on the autism spectrum to retain factual information. Surprisingly, they often respond well to flash cards and other rote teaching methods also. Some are very good with visual memory and remember things they read or see on charts very well.

HFA students typically exhibit strengths in their visual processing skills, with significant weaknesses in their ability to process information via auditory means. Thus, use of visual methods of teaching, as well as visual support strategies, should always be incorporated to help the "special needs" student better understand his/her environment. 
 
==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Visual learners learn well using formats such as:
  • watching someone else perform a task or activity
  • watching a video or DVD
  • viewing themselves performing a task or activity via filming and subsequent play back on a video camera
  • using visual recall as a learning strategy
  • looking at whole words printed on a page
  • looking at photos or images on a screen
  • following visual cues and landmarks during a journey or task
  • "imagining" what something looks like so they can remember it

Tailor your teaching strategies for visual learners to include some of the above approaches. This will ensure visual learners are given information in a way which suits their preferences, but also helps them build other learning style skills.
 
Etiquette and social graces are like a foreign language to kids with HFA. Social skills, such as saying “Hi” or “Good morning” or looking others in the eyes when conversing, are often taught by communication specialists or in social training groups. Imitating and practicing new skills in situations which are as realistic as possible is very effective.

Skills-training includes:
  • learning nonverbal behaviors, such as using appropriate hand gestures, smiling, and verbal behaviors
  • interpretation of nonverbal behaviors of others
  • processing of visual information with auditory information
  • social awareness

Another idea for teaching social skills is to set a weekly or monthly goal. The goal is to learn a specific skill and be able to apply it in a variety of situations.

Here is the procedure:
  1. Decide which skill you would like the child to learn, for example responding to the question “What’s new?”
  2. Teach the child the question/skill and several possible responses. Explain that there are many ways to respond. Model lots of options.
  3. Involve family, friends, and school staff in setting up situations that require practicing the skill.
  4. Develop a plan for how the questioner should prompt or respond, if the child doesn’t respond correctly.
  5. Keep track of the child’s responses to see if he/she uses the skill consistently.
  6. Use a lot of praise for appropriate behavior, especially when it is used without prompting.

The HFA child may form friendships with others who share his interests. Computer or math clubs, science fairs, Star Trek clubs, etc. are possible avenues to consider. Many of these children will develop coping and social interaction skills, and the ability to “fit in” as a result. For those that don’t, counseling and social “training” may help.

==> Specific strategies for teaching social skills can be found here...

==> "Social Stories" in Video Format for Kids on the Autism Spectrum


Additional 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 
 

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