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Traits That Your HFA Child's Teachers Need To Be Aware Of

“Would there be a list of traits associated with high functioning autism that I could share with my son’s teacher to help her understand him more? Also, some helpful tips in dealing with my son’s challenges would be greatly appreciated as well.” 

Below are some of the most prevalent features of High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s observed in the classroom and other group settings, along with a few strategies that the teacher can use to help your son cope better.

Common Features—
  • failure to comprehend that the eyes convey information on a person’s mental state or feelings
  • strong preference to interact with adults who are far more interesting, knowledgeable and more tolerant and accommodating of their lack of social awareness
  • tendency to interrupt; have difficulty identifying the cues for when to start talking
  • tendency to make irrelevant comments
  • less aware of the concept of personal space
  • often aware of the poor quality of their handwriting and may be reluctant to engage in activities that involve extensive writing
  • often very stoic, enduring pain with little evidence in their body language and speech that they may actually be experience agony
  • may become aware of their isolation and, in time, are genuinely motivated to socialize with other students their age – but their social play skills are immature, and rigid and other students often reject them
  • may be detached from - or having difficulty sensing - the feelings of others
  • may be lost for words due to a high level of anxiety 
  • can be confused by the emotions of others or have difficulty expressing their own feelings
  • can be very sensitive to particular sounds and forms of touch, yet lack sensitivity to low levels of pain
  • may appear “lost in their own little world” – staring off into space
  • do not seem to be aware of the unwritten rules of social conduct and will inadvertently say or do things that may offend or annoy other people
  • eye contact breaks their concentration
  • predominantly visual style of thinking (and learning)
  • strong desire not to appear ‘stupid’
  • difficulty establishing and coping with the changing patterns and expectations in daily life
  •  lax joint and rhythm problems
  • difficulty conceptualizing and appreciating the thoughts and feelings of another person
  • lack of ‘central drive for coherence’ (i.e., an inability to see the relevance of different types of knowledge to a particular problem)
  • lack subtlety in retaliating when threatened; may not have sufficient empathy and self-control to moderate the degree of injury to peers
  • less able to learn from mistakes
  • may avoid team sports because they know they lack competence, or are deliberately excluded because they are a liability to the team 
  • may have only one approach to a problem 
  • may have signs of Tourette syndrome (motor, vocal or behavioral)
  • may talk to themselves or “vocalize their thoughts” 
  • may talk too much or too little, lack cohesion to the conversation, and have an idiosyncratic use of words and patterns of speech
  • may not be good at ball games, which results in the exclusion of the HFA student from some of the most popular social games on the playground
  • may not look at others
  • inappropriate laughter may appear (perhaps upon hearing a certain word or phrase that produces almost hysterical laughter)
  • once their mind is on a particular track, they appear unable to change (even if the track is clearly wrong or going nowhere)
  • prefer factual, nonfiction reading
  • prefer to be left alone to continue their activity uninterrupted
  • routine is imposed to make life predictable and to impose order, because novelty, chaos or uncertainty are intolerable 
  • seem to evoke the maternal or predatory instinct in others
  • social contact is tolerated as long as the other students play their game according to their rules
  • sometimes social interaction is avoided not simply because of lack of social play skills, but because of a desire to have complete control over the activity
  • often have the inability to ‘give messages with their eyes’
  • ungainly or ‘puppet-like’ walking or running can be quite conspicuous, and other students may tease the HFA student as a result (leading to reluctance to participate in running sports and physical education at school)

Helpful Strategies—
  1. Try to be are aware of auditory sensitivity and try to minimize the level of sudden noises, reduce the background conversation of others, and avoid specific sounds known to be perceived as unbearably intense.
  2. Be aware of two characters. The student may be very conscious of the necessity to follow the codes of conduct in the classroom and try to be inconspicuous and behave like other students. This pressure to conform and retain self-control can lead to enormous emotions tension, which like a compressed spring, is release when the student returns home. 
  3. Explain alternative means of seeking help. The HFA student may consider the teacher as the only source of knowledge and assistance. It is important to explain that when a problem arises, help can be requested and obtained from other students rather than always referring to the teacher.
  4. It may help initially to identify and encourage interaction with a restricted number of students who are keen to help the HFA student learn how to play with them. They may become the student’s guardians when teased or bullied by others. 
  5. Many HFA students will not try a new activity if they have the slightest suspicion they will fail or there is the slightest hint of disappointment. The teacher needs to adopt an encouraging attitude, avoiding any suggestions of criticism. 
  6. Provide supervision at break times and on the playground. For most ordinary students, the best time in the school day is free play on the playground. However, a lack of structure and supervision and an atmosphere of intense socializing and noise are often not enjoyable for the student with HFA. 
  7. There is the problem of other students taking advantage of the HFA student’s naivety. It is important that teachers are aware that there may be no mischievous intent and ask the “special needs” student, “Did anyone tell you to do this?’ before considering punishment.
  8. They may lack motivation for any activity the teacher suggests. However, they have enormous motivation and attention when engaged in their special interest. The strategy here is to incorporate the interest in the activity that is non-motivating or perceived as boring. Also, they can gain access to the special interest by complying.
  9. Use other students as cues to indicate what to do. The HFA student may be disruptive or intrusive because he/she is not aware of the codes of conduct for the classroom. When errors occur, remember to ask the HFA student to first look at what the other students are doing (e.g., sitting still, working silently, waiting in an orderly line). Inform the student that what he or she must do is observe the other students and copy what they are doing (assuming what they are doing is appropriate).
  10. A teacher aid may be required. Their role is crucial and complex, but their main responsibilities are to:
  • Provide instruction on feelings and friendships
  • Provide instruction for specific learning problems
  • Implement a program to improve gross and fine motor skills
  • Help the student to recognize the codes of conduct
  • Help the student to develop and apply special interests as a means of improving motivation, talent and knowledge
  • Encourage the understanding of the perspectives and thoughts of others
  • Encourage the student to be sociable, flexible, and cooperative when playing or working with other students
  • Encourage conversation skills
  • Enable the student to cope with their auditory sensitivity

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