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Top 10 School Concerns for Students on the Autism Spectrum

Thousands of kids face life with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). These young people have (a) rigid behaviors that are often exhibited as an insistence on a specific order of events, a compulsion to complete what was started, an insistence on rules, a difficulty with transitions, or a fear that is based on a single experience; (b) obsessive interests that may be similar to the interests of other kids, but they are unlike other kids because their restricted interest is the only activity in which they participate; (c) difficulty predicting the future, insisting that things happen in a certain order; (d) an inability to recognize that there are times when rules can be renegotiated, bent, or broken; and (e) a restricted range of interests that can take unusual or eccentric forms (e.g., some may be interested in unusual things, such as washing machines, bus timetables, or subway maps).

In addition, many kids with AS and HFA have additional psychiatric diagnoses (e.g., ADHD) when they are young, and depression or anxiety when they are teenagers and young adults. Even though these children and teens often lack the emotional resources to cope with the demands of the classroom, they do not always demonstrate stress through their tone of voice or body posture. As a result, their inner turmoil may escalate to a point of crisis before parents or teachers recognize their discomfort.

Children with AS and HFA generally have average to above-average intelligence and frequently have good rote memory skills. But they may lack higher-level thinking and comprehension skills and have poor problem-solving skills. Because many can decode words well, their impressive vocabularies may give a false impression that they understand everything they say or read.

Here are 10 of the most common school concerns faced by these “special needs” students:
  1. very focused areas of interest and expertise
  2. problems with social interactions
  3. problems with sensory hyper- or hypo-sensitivity
  4. problems with ritualistic, repetitive, or rigid behavior
  5. problems with motor issues including written production
  6. problems with language
  7. problems with attention, organization, and other areas of executive functioning
  8. problems with anxiety, depression, and emotional regulation
  9. problems with abstract reasoning
  10. need for predictability

 ==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Teachers should be aware that changes in behavior (e.g., greater levels of disorganization, inattentiveness, isolation, etc.) may be indicative of anxiety or depression. Because these “special needs” kids typically have difficulty identifying their own emotions, they may not be able to acknowledge that they are sad or depressed. Teachers need to be aware of the signs of agitation to initiate interventions to avert an emotional crisis.

Here are 15 simple strategies to help students on the autism spectrum cope more effectively during the school day:
  1. Use humor to diffuse tension.
  2. Teach cause-and-effect concepts.
  3. Teach anger-control skills.
  4. Teach an appropriate replacement behavior when extinguishing an inappropriate behavior (e.g., teach the child to engage in such appropriate waiting behavior as counting slowly to 10 rather than screaming to gain the teacher’s attention).
  5. Shorten or modify their written assignments and consider allowing them to use a word processor or computer.
  6. Set up consistent routines with clear expectations throughout the day. 
  7. Warn the child of upcoming transitions and try to avoid surprises.
  8.  Provide visual schedules so they know what is happening throughout the school day.
  9. Provide a predictable and safe environment that avoids things that could trigger rage or a meltdown. Because other students can be a trigger for this behavior, it may be wise to limit interaction.
  10. Link their obsessive interest in a single subject to another subject that is being studied in class.
  11. Limit opportunities for obsessive talk about special interests by providing a specific time of day for this behavior. 
  12. Use the child’s fixations as a method to broaden his or her repertoire of interests.
  13. Create a safe place for the child to go when he or she feels a need to regain control. 
  14. Have a few “safe escapes” (e.g., sending the child on a simple errand that removes him or her from difficult situations in a non-punitive manner).
  15. Capitalize on their exceptional memory skills by providing them with opportunities to demonstrate their factual knowledge in class.

==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

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