Academic Traits of Students on the Autism Spectrum: What Teachers Need to Know

“Would my child (6 years old) with high-functioning autism be better served by an alternative or private school? Is it possible for him to succeed in regular public school? Are there special issues his teacher should be made aware of?”

Most kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) receive their education in general education classrooms, albeit frequently with the support of Special Education teachers. 
Most of these young people are well equipped to benefit from general classroom experiences. They typically have average intellectual abilities, are motivated to be with their peers, and have good rote memory skills and other assets that bode well for their academic success.

However, some kids with HFA and AS do have several problems in academic performance, largely due to social and communication deficits connected to the disorder. Also, some of them have a learning disability. 

Other concerns that make it difficult for some children on the autism spectrum to benefit from general education curricula without support and accommodations include:
  • concrete and literal thinking styles
  • difficulty attending to salient curricular cues
  • difficulty in discerning relevant from irrelevant stimuli
  • inflexibility
  • difficulty understanding inferentially-based materials
  • obsessive and narrowly defined interests
  • poor organizational skills
  • relative weakness in comprehending verbally presented information
  • poor problem-solving skills
  • trouble generalizing knowledge and skills
  • difficulty in comprehending abstract materials (e.g., metaphors and idioms)

Strengths of young people with HFA and AS tend to be in comprehension of factual material. They are also very good in the areas of oral expression and reading recognition. With appropriate support, most kids on the spectrum can be successful in public school, and many are able to attend college or technical school - and enjoy a variety of successful careers.

Many teachers fail to recognize the unique academic needs of students on the autism spectrum, because they often give the impression that they understand more than they do. Their pedantic style, seemingly advanced vocabulary, parrot-like responses, and ability to word-call (without having the higher-order thinking and comprehension skills to understand what they read) may actually mask many of the deficits these students struggle with.

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