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Parent-Teacher Collaboration: Help for Students on the Autism Spectrum

"I desperately need some advice on how to work with my son's (high functioning autistic) teacher so we can come up with a 'plan' that actually works for him - both academically and behaviorally."

Collaboration between parent and teacher facilitates successful education for ALL children. But for young people with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism, it’s especially important to have effective communication, consistency on goals and rewards across settings, teamwork planning, and monitoring of interventions. The parent-teacher relationship is ongoing, reciprocal, respectful, and child-centered.

This post offers important tips for facilitating effective parent-teacher teamwork:

1. A message notebook may be used so that the educator can communicate what is going on at school – and the mother or father can communicate what is happening at home. Notebook comments from the educator may discuss a youngster's progress, his behavior, attitude, the rate at which he completes class work, and so on. A message notebook also provides an opportunity for the mother or father to ask questions she or he may have for the educator or provide information about the youngster to the educator.

2. Brainstorming requires both creativity and patience. Parents need to allow the teacher to share suggestions with them, even though they might not necessarily make sense to parents at first. The best solutions are not always the most obvious ones. Parents should be flexible in their thinking and open to the teacher’s suggestions – and listen to the reasons behind the suggestions (e.g., the educator may suggest a particular approach because that intervention has been effective with other Asperger’s children in the past).

3. Children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism often have difficulty planning ahead for longer assignments or class projects. To assist with lengthy assignments, these kids benefit from having a contract for the assignment so they are aware of their timelines and responsibilities.

4. E-mail has become a very common and convenient method of communication. If moms and dads and educators both have an e-mail address, e-mail may be a convenient way for them to communicate.

5. Homework is frequently an area of difficulty for children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – and may be the subject of the majority of parent-teacher trouble-shooting. Parents and teachers often report that Asperger’s children are not aware of assignments, have left books or homework at school, or have completed work - but have not returned or submitted it for grading. It’s important that all parties understand homework policies and their individual roles and responsibilities (e.g., How often will homework be given? How much time will be required to complete assignments? What is the parent’s role?).

It’s equally important for educators to obtain information from the mother or father about their schedules, the parents’ other children, and household routines. Many moms and dads find that assisting their Asperger’s youngster with homework requires time, organization, and patience, which can be challenging for them to muster after a day with job and family responsibilities. When educators and parents communicate their expectations and situations, they can develop and monitor successful homework plans.

6. For children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism, managing homework assignments may require assistance from an advocate or "coach." The coach is often a special education teacher who meets daily during "homeroom" or "study skills" class with children to build organizational, study, time-management, and self-advocacy skills. The special education teacher mentors and supports the child and communicates with teachers at weekly team meetings to discuss and monitor the child’s assignments and projects. The special education teacher serves as a contact person for parents and educators and provides consistent communication and teamwork between home and school for academic and behavioral growth. 

7. In order to come up with the best solutions to a youngster's problems, moms and dads and educators need to discuss the problems in detail. Although such discussions may be difficult, they are necessary in order to develop interventions that can be implemented consistently at school and at home. With the right interventions, most Asperger’s kids will improve, although it may take a while. Stay positive, work collaboratively, and think about how all of this time and effort will ultimately benefit the youngster.

8. Lack of motivation by children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism is often a factor in starting and completing school assignments. When educators offer children multiple ways of demonstrating their learning, they can explore their interests and creative talents, thus increasing their motivation and effort.

9. Make use of a student planner, which is a notebook that is used to help kids keep track of their daily homework assignments. While many educators can write the assignments that are due in the planner, some kids may be required to do this task themselves in order to increase their independence and responsibility. When kids are responsible for writing their assignments in the planner, the educator can check their notebook to see whether they completed the task accurately. Moms and dads and educators can communicate daily through a youngster's planner.

10. Medications are often an integral part of treating comorbid conditions associated with Asperger’s (e.g., ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.). Medication can be a beneficial component of a treatment plan for some of these “special needs” children, and educators are in an excellent position to judge effectiveness of medications on behavior and learning. Therefore, moms and dads and educators will want to provide teamwork feedback to doctors regarding these kid’s behavior and performance when on medication. Information about performance before - and when receiving medication - is critical for determining the overall effectiveness of medication, its dosage and timing, and side effects. Some of the side effects that parents and educators can observe and note are nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches, lethargy, moodiness, and irritability.

Behavioral, learning, and other side effects noted by educators are best reported to parents, who in turn, will present this information to the doctor. Parent permission is required for any direct communication between educators and doctors. Parent-teacher communication regarding medication monitoring may take the form of phone calls, notes, or forms. For working parents, it’s important to let them know that frequent communication is very useful when Asperger’s children first begin medication or adjustments are made. When medications are given at school, the school nurse should maintain a medication log and administer medications per doctor’s orders. Also, the school nurse should be included in the parent-teacher team when monitoring medication.

11. Moms and dads should attend each open house that their youngster's school holds. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to meet their youngster's educators face-to-face and get to know who they are.

12. Parental involvement should be included in all stages of assessment, identification, and the development of behavior plans. While moms and dads have always been included as participants on their youngster's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, they should also have input during pre-referral and eligibility meetings and help plan positive behavioral interventions.

13. Parents can be a volunteer. While some principals will not assign moms and dads to their youngster's classroom, being a “room mother” or “room father” is a possibility in many districts. Volunteering in another class can still provide many insights into what goes on in the school (e.g., what happens daily or how the educator manages the classroom).

14. Phone conversations can be a good way to communicate, because each party can ask more detailed questions. Phone conversations often do not provide the ongoing dialogue that corresponding through a message notebook does. However, for complex issues, a phone call may be the better choice.

15. Some districts use a homework hot line that allows educators to communicate homework information to moms and dads and children. Parents can call a certain number in order to hear the day's homework assignments for their youngster.

16. The school should develop communication folders and homework plans that foster parent-teacher teamwork. Though these specific folders and plans may vary by grade with homework requirements increasing each year, the principles and policies should be consistent across the grade levels. All “special needs” children should have a communication folder that goes back and forth from school to home each day. Announcements, notes, weekly school newsletters, and weekly homework packets should be put in this folder. The front cover of the homework packet should have a weekly class schedule, list of upcoming school events, and a list of spelling/writing words. Also in the packet, there should be a “homework schedule” with suggested assignments for each day. Moms and dads should communicate with the teacher by signing and returning the bottom half of the weekly schedule along with any comments. The folder needs to be given to the Asperger’s child on Friday and needs to be returned to the teacher the following Friday.

Keeping the homework packet in the communication folder is particularly helpful when the Asperger’s child participates in after-school study or childcare programs or has homework assistance from others. For some children on the autism spectrum, educators can make accommodations by varying the homework that is included in the packet, particularly if their achievement levels are substantially below that required of the homework. While it’s important for ALL children to practice skills and do work that is at their independent or instructional levels, this is particularly true for kids with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism, for whom focusing on “too challenging” academic work after a day at school can be particularly difficult.

17. Utilize a web-based homework list, which is a list that provides a directory of reading and homework assignments for the night. The website may also include links to relevant Internet resources. A homework list is often offered as part of a program that allows moms and dads to log in and access their youngster's grades. This feature allows parents to continually monitor their youngster's progress, which is particularly important if they are concerned that their youngster's grades may be slipping because of extracurricular activities or after school employment.

18. It’s is helpful to provide Asperger’s children with a sequence of steps for complex or multi-step assignments and a checklist to monitor their completion of the steps. This list can be created by the teacher - or by the teacher and child - as they think through the steps in the process.

19. Moms and dads have a lot to offer, whether it’s information about the youngster's medical, developmental and educational history, ratings for behavior and attention levels, or information about interests. When a problem arises, using an effective problem-solving plan that incorporates parent-teacher teamwork can be helpful for both parties. The following 10-step plan for the problem-solving process addresses specific concerns, incorporates a positive plan of action, and offers specific means for follow-up communication:
  1. Teacher writes one sentence describing the problem.
  2. Why is it an issue?
  3. Give a brief history.
  4. Whose responsibility is it (teacher, parent, or child)?
  5. What has already been tried to handle the problem?
  6. Is the problem similar at home and school?
  7. Teacher and parent generate, write, and clarify possible solutions.
  8. Teacher and parent select preferred solution(s).
  9. Teacher and parent select specific way(s) to implement the preferred solutions.
  10. Teacher and parents specify times for follow-up and teamwork.

Below is an example of the 10-step plan for problem-solving:

Child: Michael Jameson
Grade: Second
Teacher: Mrs. Smith
Date: March 2, 2013
Parent: Sara Jameson

1. Teacher writes one sentence describing the problem: Michael does not stay in his seat and complete his work.

2. Why is it an issue? Moving around the classroom distracts Michael’s fellow students.

3. Give a brief history: Michael stays in his seat for about 3 minutes when doing classwork. He misses instructions, walks around the classroom, gets a drink, talks to peers, etc. At home when doing homework, he stays in his seat for 5 minutes, then gets up and plays with his dog.

4. Whose responsibility is it (teacher, parent, or child)? This is Michael’s responsibility.

5. What has already been tried to handle the problem? Verbal reprimands have been tried.

6. Is the problem similar at home and school? Not completing assigned work happens both at school and home.

7. Teacher and parent generate, write, and clarify possible solutions:
  • Schedule appointment for physical with Michael’s doctor
  • Give Michael stickers or extra playtime for staying in area and completing work
  • Set up a behavior monitoring plan for staying in seat, listening to directions, and doing work
  • Have the school counselor talk with Michael weekly about importance of staying in his seat/desk area and completing work
  • Use masking tape on floor to outline Michael's desk area

8. and 9. Teacher and parent select preferred solution(s) and select specific way(s) to implement the preferred solutions.
  • Parent and teacher set up a behavior monitoring plan for listening to directions, staying in seat/area, and doing work at school during morning classwork and at home during homework. With his mother or teacher, Michael monitors his own behavior. Each day that he receives an "X" (hit the target) for all target behaviors, he will receive a "target sticker.” If he receives stickers 3 out of 5 days at school, he gets a "special treat" at home. If he receives stickers 3 out of 5 days at home, he gets 15 minutes of free time at school on Friday. Checklist goes back and forth from home to school in Michael’s folder.

10. Teacher and parents specify times for follow-up and teamwork: Mrs. Smith telephones Michael’s mother on Friday to check on how it’s going. Then Mrs. Smith calls Michael’s mother on March 10, 17, and 24th …and then weekly for a month. Number of days needed to get stickers will increase as Michael is successful.
  • Mrs. Smith and Michael’s mother were consistently communicating and had similar expectations.
  • Michael was actively involved in self-monitoring using a parent-teacher behavior checklist that was titled "Hit the Target".
  • When Michael received his reward for schoolwork at home and vice versa, Michael got a "double dose" of praise and, when needed, additional support.

Parent-teacher teamwork is an important key for the success of children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism. Communication fosters common language and consistent expectation and engages all parties involved. Teamwork is particularly crucial for input during assessments, when developing behavior plans, when monitoring medication, and in coordinating homework.

The consistent use of parent-teacher notes is an important part of the communication system. Parent-teacher notes promote consistency in expectations and help everyone develop a common language. These notes may be simple check sheets or lists for reporting child behavior or academic work.

Using daily or weekly journals is helpful when more elaborated information is important. Educators and parents also have opportunities to regularly communicate through formal and information meetings and phone calls. 

More 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

Helping the Teacher to Understand Your Autistic Child

"Are there certain things that I should tell my son's new teacher before he starts the new school year in order to help her make any necessary adjustments or accommodations?"

You have had several years of experience figuring-out what works and what doesn’t work in managing your son. 
While his teacher understands the fundamentals of teaching, he/she may be lacking in crucial information about ASD [[High-Functioning Autism], and what works best in certain circumstances.

This means that you have information to share with the teacher, and the time to do that is before (or very near) the time your son enters the classroom.

Here are the basics to discuss with your son's teacher:
  • You’ll want to share information on your son’s diagnosis and his  normal level of functioning.
  • If your son has a normal or above normal IQ, tell the teacher that he has the cognitive ability to succeed under the right circumstances.
  • Talk about visual learning and the fact that children on the autism spectrum learn through pictures and are less likely to learn through auditory awareness or through letters and words.
  • You’ll also want to talk to the teacher about those things that set your son off, including any obsessions or compulsive behavior he exhibits. 
  • If your child still has temper tantrums, talk about how to manage them and how to avoid them, if possible. If he has meltdowns, be sure to talk about that too.
  • Ease the teacher’s possible discomfort about your son’s repetitive or strange actions by telling him/her that it has to do with how his brain processes information.
  • Explain that your son's inappropriate behavior often comes from misunderstanding, not insubordination. 
  • Tell the teacher about different skills your son finds challenging (e.g., making eye contact, accepting change, showing appropriate emotions, etc.).
  • Educate the nature of the disorder. It's neurological, not psychological or behavioral. It has an organic origin.

Also, if possible, copy and paste the link to this video and email it to the teacher:

In addition, tell the teacher that you can be available as a resource if needed. Try to have a phone number at which you can be reached for any impromptu issues that arise during the course of the day. 

Make a deal with the teacher that allows you to attend class on the first few days of school or when things get difficult. Not only will that help your son adjust to school, it will aid the teacher in the process of getting to know him.

Maintain that teacher-parent alliance throughout the school year in order to have the best chance of your son learning and thriving within the structure of the mainstream classroom. 
As one mother stated: "My daughter puts her head down on the desk when she has to much input. This gives her a moment to process all that she is hearing. Now that her teacher knows this, she is no longer getting in trouble for not paying attention. Sharing these cues with teachers will greatly help your child AND the teacher!"

Investigating and Resolving "Problem Behavior" in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"I need to understand my son better (ASD, age 7) so we can you come up with some consequences that are appropriate and not so punitive as to remove all possibility of improvement. Please help!"

If you have a youngster with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) who exhibits problematic behavior, you have probably felt like an investigator, searching for clues and seeking hidden motivations. 

You may have come up with some quick and easy explanations for your youngster's behavioral issues (e.g., ones offered by parents at the park, your mother-in-law, and even by behavioral experts), but your youngster often has something completely different up his sleeve. Operating according to the easiest explanation will often make matters worse.

Even though there are explanations for your HFA youngster's “bad” behavior that take some of the fault from him, the effects of the behavior are unfortunate and must be addressed. For example, your youngster may push one of his friends or break a toy because of autism-related challenges not under his control, but he still has to face the consequences associated with this behavior. 

A full understanding of the situation can help you come up with some consequences that are effective and not so punitive "as to remove all possibility of improvement" (as you say). And the best way to come to a full understanding is through good detective work.

One way to be a good detective is to observe behavior by using a functional behavioral assessment (i.e., observing your youngster and noting everything that happens before, during, and after problem behaviors). With a few weeks of observation, you can often uncover the things that provoke your youngster (e.g., the itchy sweater he is wearing, the long wait in the gym after the bus drop-off, the breeze coming through a classroom window, etc.).


Here’s is an example of a functional behavioral assessment:

Student’s name
: Ricky

Issue: Ricky had difficulty transitioning from resource room to physical education class

Location: The resource room

People involved: Resource teacher and classmates

Antecedent (i.e., what occurred before the incident): Resource teacher states, “It’s time for everyone to put their drawing materials away and get ready to go to the gym.”

  • Behavior #1 (i.e., what occurred during the incident): Ricky continued to draw in his art notebook. He glanced at classmates who had moved to the doorway.
  • Consequence #1 (i.e., what resulted at this stage of events): Resource teacher talked with the students for about one minute. She looked at Ricky and told him to put his pencil down and to get in line.
  • Behavior #2: Ricky turned his back to the teacher and threw his pencil on the floor.
  • Consequence #2: Teacher approached Ricky and told him to pick up the pencil.
  • Behavior #3: Ricky got up and picked up the pencil and took it to the art supplies drawer. Then he ran to the front of the classroom and climbed under the teacher’s desk.
  • Consequence #3: Teacher bent down to be at eye level with Ricky under the table and told him he was wasting everyone’s gym time, and that he needed to come out from under the desk and get in line.
  • Behavior #4: Ricky reached out his hand.
  • Consequence #4: Teacher took Ricky’s hand and led him to the end of the line.
  • Behavior #5: Ricky waved goodbye and smiled to his teacher and walked with the others to the gym.
  • Consequence #5: Teacher smiled, waved back and stated, “I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

Hypothesis (i.e., best guess as to why the behavior occurs based on the assumption that other antecedents, behaviors and consequences showed a similar pattern): Ricky was seeking attention from his resource teacher

Goal (i.e., corrective action plan): Teach Ricky a more appropriate way to seek his teacher’s attention

Objectives (i.e., potential strategies used to accomplish the goal):
  • allow Ricky to ask a classmate to walk next to him on the way to gym
  • allow Ricky to be “line-leader”
  • allow Ricky to be the "timer" who pushes the two-minute warning buzzer
  • post Ricky’s name on the "hard workers of the week" bulletin board
  • praise Ricky for a specific work-related behavior or academic response just before asking students to line up for gym time

Although the example above involved problematic behavior at school, the same method can be applied by parents for behavior at home. The more you learn about your youngster’s disorder and his unique quirkiness, the better you will be able to discover the true motive behind the behavior and apply appropriate discipline (or leniency if warranted).

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism 

More Structure Equals Less Behavioral Problems 

Here is a personal example of applying functional behavioral analysis (see if you can identify the antecedent, behavior, and consequence):

One of my child clients with High-Functioning Autism was experiencing meltdowns pretty much daily whenever he was in special education class, which he attended for one hour each morning for writing practice since his penmanship was poor. As most people know who work with children on the autism spectrum, they tend to have poor writing abilities due to fine motor skills deficits.

I was asked by Michael's parents to go to the school and sit in the classroom to investigate.  Here is what I observed:

Michael entered the classroom and took his seat, which was in the rear of the room nearest the door that led to the hallway. As he began to practice writing, he would get frustrated and erase what he had written repeatedly to the point where he wore several holes in the paper. At that point, he picked up his paper, tore it into tiny pieces and threw it on the floor. This resulted in the teacher escorting Michael to another room where he was isolated from the other students for a period of time.

To make a long story short, on the day of my investigation, I took my seat in the very back of the classroom behind Michael. I immediately noticed that since we were sitting near the exit, most of the hallway noise was very audible. I also knew that based on personal experience, many children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's have hearing sensitivities. 

As I sat there, I had the thought that it would be difficult for even me to concentrate with the hustle and bustle right on the other side of the door. So purely on a hunch, we moved Michael to the front of the room furthest away from the door. We were pleasantly surprised to see that Michael was able to stay focused on his writing at that point and was not making as many mistakes, thus reducing his frustration-level.

So the hypothesis was this: Michael was unconsciously distracted by the noises in the hallway, which contributed to his frequent writing mistakes and frequent erasing. This in turn resulted in the writing paper being torn, which was the tipping-point for Michael to slip into a total state of frustration.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with High-Functioning Autism
Obviously, the corrective action was to move Michael to an area of the classroom that was less noisy and distracting. It also appeared to help that he was near the teacher and could receive frequent one-on-one assistance.

As a mother or father, you will need to develop a trained eye for your AS or HFA child, as well as an intuitive understanding of what makes him tic. Your youngster needs you to read all the hidden cues. He also needs to follow his own instincts, which may be telling him that something's too difficult, too uncomfortable, etc. Your youngster has no choice but to follow his instincts. Knowing this can help you be more empathetic and skilled in addressing difficult behavior.

Not all hidden cues are worth following. When you're investigating your youngster's confusing behavior, red herrings may show up (e.g., his eagerness to end a stressful situation by accepting blame even when it’s not his fault, your preconceived notions of “whodunit,” another youngster's self-protecting accusations, another adult's spin on the situation, etc.). 

If it feels to you like something is awry, chances are it is. Keep an open mind even in the face of seemingly “solid evidence,” and allow for the possibility that things may not be what they seem. Your intuition is still worth following – all “evidence” to the contrary.

Of course, there will be times when you have developed a wonderful hypothesis based on a good-faith investigation, but for some reason it just doesn’t pan-out (e.g., there is a missing piece of the puzzle that would make the picture so much clearer and turn your guesswork into certainty – if you could just find it; the strategies that have always worked in the past don't get the job done this time; the explanation you've developed through your intuition is not what is really going on, etc.). 

Always keep an eye out for that “missing link,” even if you seem to have resolved the situation to an acceptable degree. That little bit of extra information can resolve things more completely, and can help you prevent a particular problem behavior from occurring again.

More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…


Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...


Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…


Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…


Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...


Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...
A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...

Avoiding Negative Reinforcement in the Classroom: Tips for Teachers with Aspergers Students

Negative reinforcement requires the student to work for the removal of an in-place, unpleasant consequence. The student's goal is to get rid of something that is unpleasant rather than to earn something that is desirable. In a negative reinforcement model, instead of working to earn a positive consequence, the student works to distance himself from an aversive consequence.

Negative reinforcement is often used in the classroom to manage problem behaviors in Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) children. Educators inadvertently pay attention to a student who may not be complying and withdraw their attention contingent on the student's compliance. Surprisingly, this strengthens rather than weakens the noncompliant behavior. The next time a similar situation occurs, the student again will not comply until confronted with the aversive consequence (i.e. the teacher's attention). Negative reinforcement is often seductive and coercive for educators. It works in the short run, but in the long run, is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the undesirable behavior.

Behaviors that in-and-of themselves may not be negative become negative reinforcers when paired with certain events. For example, a teacher approaching a student who is not working quickly becomes a negative reinforcer, even though the action itself, the teacher walking up to the student, does not have a negative connotation. Researchers found that negative reinforcement was rated by educators as the most frequently used classroom intervention. Kids with Aspergers often experience negative reinforcement because of their temperament, which makes it difficult for them to complete tasks – their consequent learning history reinforces them for beginning, but rarely for finishing.

A number of simple, effective ways exist to deal with this problem. If you, the teacher, are using negative reinforcement, pay attention to the student until the assignment is completed. Although this too is negative reinforcement, it teaches the student that the only way to get rid of the aversive consequence (i.e., your attention) is not just to start – but to complete the task at hand. As an example, you may move the student's desk next to your desk until that particular piece of work is completed.

A second alternative involves the use of differential attention or ignoring. The term differential attention applies when “ignoring” is used as the negative consequence for exhibiting the undesirable behavior and “attention” is used as a positive consequence for exhibiting the competing desirable behavior. This is an active process in which the teacher ignores the student engaged in an ‘off-task’ activity, but pays attention immediately when the student begins working. Many educators avoid interaction with the student when she is ‘on-task’ for fear of interrupting the student's train of thought. It is important, however, to reinforce the student when working so that a pattern of working to earn positive reinforcement rather than working to avoid negative reinforcement is developed.

Secondary school educators at times complain that if they ignore the Aspergers student during an hour-long class, they never have the opportunity to pay positive attention as the student may never exhibit positive behavior. Waiting, however, even if one has to wait until the next day, is more effective in the long run than paying attention to ‘off-task’ behavior.

Educators need to make a distinction between ‘off-task’ behavior that ‘disrupts’ and ‘off-task’ behavior that ‘does not disrupt’. Differential attention works effectively for the latter. However, when a student is ‘off-task’ and disturbing his neighbor, you may find that being a negative reinforcer holds an advantage in stemming the tide of an ‘off-task’ behavior that involves other children as well. Differential attention alone has been demonstrated to be ineffective in maintaining high rates of ‘on-task’ behavior and work productivity for children with Aspergers. In part, it is suggested that many factors other than teacher attention maintain and influence student behavior.

Differential attention is a powerful intervention when used appropriately. Once the strategy of ignoring inappropriate behavior is employed, it must be continued despite escalation. If not, the teacher runs the risk of intermittently reinforcing the negative behavior, thereby strengthening its occurrence. For example, if you decide to use differential attention for a student's out-of-seat behavior, but become sufficiently frustrated after the student is out of his seat for 10 minutes and respond by directing attention to the student, the behavior will be reinforced rather than extinguished. The 10 minutes of ignoring will quickly be lost in the one incident of negative attention. If the teacher shouts, "You need to down!" …the student has received the desired attention by persisting in a negative behavior.

Researchers evaluated rules, praise, and ignoring for inappropriate behavior in two Aspergers kids in a typical second-grade classroom and in one Aspergers student in a kindergarten class. The results indicated that in the absence of praise, rules and ignoring were ineffective. Inappropriate behavior decreased only after praise was added. Others have demonstrated the importance of praise in a general education classroom. Specifically, whenever teacher approval was withdrawn, disruptive behaviors increased.

Kids with Aspergers perform as well as typical kids with a continuous schedule of reinforcement, but perform significantly worse with a partial schedule of reinforcement (e.g. reinforcement is provided only sometimes), which is typically found in most classrooms. Praise is important for the development of other attributes in kids (e.g., self-esteem, school attitude, motivation toward academics, etc). In addition, the opposite is also true: A large amount of punishment can negatively affect emotional development and self-esteem.

P.S. Parents are encouraged to copy, paste and print the information above and share it with their Aspergers child's teacher(s).


•    Anonymous said... Our special Ed teacher really helped son interact in group discussions. The kids were use to ignoring my son but taught them to see his thoughts as valid while teaching him how properly give and take. Now he can join without being shutout.
•    Anonymous said... I would have loved to show this to my son's 3rd grade teacher! That lady was a piece of work!
•    Anonymous said... I have a child with that is an aspie. He is now 18 and an amazing young man. I never used negative reinforcement. They are so emotional and so fragile. I totally disagree with negative reinforcement. It is unnecessary. They want acceptment. They don't think like "normal" people. When they act out they need a hug and to be explained to that what they did was wrong. They need people and parents that understand where they are and to be ready for uncommon circumstances. They are special and need to be treated as such.

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Tips for Teachers: Understanding Your “Difficult” Students with ASD Level 1

"My daughter was diagnosed with high functioning autism recently. What critical details can I provide to her 5th grade teachers to help them understand her cognitive, emotional and social characteristics? (I am a teacher as well, 7th grade, different school). She apparently is not doing so well in the current situation."

Most children with ASD or High Functioning Autism (HFA) are impaired socially. They often do not detect social clues and are frequently unaware when they irritate others. Since they miss these social clues, they miss the lesson associated with the experience. As a result, they tend to repeat the irritating behavior since they are unaware of its effects.

Many of the traits of HFA are "masked" by average to above average IQ scores. This often results in the student being misunderstood by teachers. They assume the child is capable of more than is being produced. This lack of understanding may result in teachers treating the "special needs" student just like a "typical" student.

Another misunderstanding is the relationship between the classwork and social education. For instance, an HFA youngster may find a social setting overwhelming and distracting. If kids are placed in a small group to work together on a project, this could become a social setting to the HFA child. As a result, the child may be over-stimulated by the social aspect to the point where he or she can’t focus on the project itself.
The typical school environment is often very stressful for HFA students, for example: (a) enduring “socialization hell” in the form of recess, lunch, gym, and the bus ride to and from school; (b) regular noises from alarms, bells, schoolmates, band practice, and crowded hallways; (c) periods of tightly structured time alternating with periods lacking any structure; (d) numerous daily transitions with a few surprises thrown in here and there; and (e) an overwhelming number of peers to contend with. Little wonder why HFA students have the proverbial “meltdown” on occasion. All of these stressors should be taken into consideration when evaluating what types of teaching techniques to use with these youngsters.

Taking the above challenges into account (and there are many more than those listed), let’s now look at some specific techniques to employ with students on the high-functioning end of autism:

1. Although HFA kids have difficulty figuring out most principles of social interaction, they are usually pretty good at understanding “cause-and-effect” principles. This suggests that, although these young people may be unaware of another person’s desires or emotions, they usually are aware of theirs. This can be useful in education if the teacher takes the time to figure out what is pleasing to the youngster. Once this pleasure has been discovered, the teacher can request the desired behavior and reinforce the behavior with the object or activity of desire.

2. HFA children, like all others, change teachers each year. Additionally, there is the requirement of moving from elementary to middle school, and then on to high school. Thus, it’s important to have a "transition-planning meeting" scheduled prior to such transitions. This meeting allows the previous teacher to inform the incoming teacher on successful techniques, as well as provide general education on the traits of AS and HFA. The child should be orientated as well. Allowing the child extra time to become familiar with a new environment will prevent unnecessary stress during transitional periods.

3. HFA students are visual learners. Thus, a visual schedule of the day's activities, a visual depiction of the type and length of the work expected, and instructions presented visually in addition to verbally can be very helpful. Visual instructions and schedules help these children to feel more secure and less stressed.

4. Because HFA children have difficulty learning in a traditional manner, mild to severe depression can occur. These children have the capability to acquire information, but their performance is hindered. A depressed child will undoubtedly have some academic struggles. For children on the spectrum, depression is just one more barrier to education. Thus, teachers should be on the lookout for signs of depression in these “special needs” students and make a referral to the school counselor when needed.

5. Imagine nails scraping on a chalk board. It sends a chill down your spine – right?! To a youngster with autism, every day sounds can have a similar affect. Thus, it’s important for the teacher to take inventory to determine sounds difficult for the child to hear. Consider allowing him or her to listen to soft music with headsets during class times when there is a lot of distracting noise. Earplugs are another solution.

6. In middle and high school, passing periods are a desirable time of socializing for most “typical” children. For the HFA child, passing periods are a social zoo. Thus, allowing the child to leave 5 minutes early in order to avoid the overwhelming social interaction is recommended. Without such an option, the child may spend most of the next class trying to recover from the distressing sensory overload experienced during the previous passing period.

7. Many students with HFA are impulsive.  You may have a child who loves class participation, but has trouble sensing when he or she should stop talking and give someone else a chance.  Thus, work out a signal that only the two of you know (e.g., tapping your chin with your index finger, standing in front of that child's desk, etc.) that cue him or her that it's time to stop talking.   If you have an HFA child who is especially eager to participate, you may want to routinely call on that child first so he or she isn't jumping out of the chair in an eagerness to contribute.

8. Minimizing the stress and worry HFA children face is critical to education. Frequent changes in routines make it difficult for these kids to focus on the schoolwork due to preoccupation concerning what will come next in the day. Teachers should try to minimize transitions and insure the environment is predictable. When there are changes in the routine, these children should be prepped ahead of time in order to help them avoid excessive anxiety.

9. Oftentimes, “teacher frustration” can develop from a lack of understanding that an HFA child is unable to generalize the skills that he or she learns. For instance, the teacher may give instructions on “how to address me as your teacher” (e.g., raising your hand first, saying “Mrs. Johnson” rather than “Hey teacher”). Typically, this skill would then be generalized to any adult in a position of authority. However, the child with autism is likely to only apply the skill to the teacher initially used as the target of respect in the learning process. The child will probably not apply this behavior to the principal, school counselor, school police officer, etc. Thus, teachers may need to repeat a particular “social skills lesson” several times so that all the possible scenarios are covered (i.e., addressing the teacher, addressing the principal, addressing the dean, and so on).

The inability to generalize can also pose a problem in classroom assignments. For example, giving instructions to open an arithmetic book to a certain page does not communicate to additionally begin solving the problems. Thus, teachers should verbally give all the steps necessary to complete an assignment rather than assuming the AS or HFA child will automatically know what to do next.
==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with High-Functioning Autism

10. There is another critical aspect of learning that is not obvious to HFA children. This aspect of learning includes the basic “how to’s” of living. These are things that “typical” children seem to just know. The social know-how that tells most kids what is inappropriate conversation material may be foreign to an autistic child. Thus, teachers instructing children struggling in this area should make use of social stories and role-playing. Social stories and role-playing give examples of proper actions in given public settings.

Teachers need to understand what the disorder is – and how it hinders affected children. Without a clear understanding of this disorder, teachers will not understand the "special needs" child. Actions that are clearly a part of the disorder can be confused with behavioral issues and dealt with inappropriately. Also, teachers must educate themselves on effective teaching techniques for students on the spectrum. 

The basic principles that prove effective with “typical” children work for those with HFA. Every “special needs” youngster needs to be evaluated, and have a plan established addressing areas of weakness – as well as acknowledging areas of strength. Perhaps most importantly, teachers should “believe in” the child and expect him or her to reach appropriate grade level requirements.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Aspergers Students: Tips for Teachers

Students with Aspergers (high functioning autism) are unique, and they can affect the learning environment in both positive and negative ways. In the classroom, the Aspergers child can present a challenge for the most experienced teacher. These children can also contribute a lot to the classroom because they can be extremely creative and see things and execute various tasks in different ways. Teachers can learn a lot when they have a child with Aspergers in their class, but the teacher may experience some very challenging days too. Here are some tips for teachers to consider:

Every child with Aspergers is different.

As a teacher you want to take the information you have acquired and apply it, but every Aspergers child is different, so it's difficult to take knowledge you have gained from one experience, and apply it to a situation with another child with Aspergers. Remember that each child with Aspergers is unique, and strategies that have worked with other students in the past may not work effectively with the Aspergers child because they perceive the world in a unique way, and they sometimes react to their environment in unpredictable ways.

Avoid demanding the student with Aspergers maintain eye contact with you.

Eye contact is a form of communication in American culture; we assume a person is giving us their attention if they look at us. The Aspergers child experiences difficulty with eye contact; it is extremely hard for them to focus their eyes on a person for any extended period of time. Limited eye contact is a part of the disability. Don't demand an Asperger child look you in the eye as you are talking to them--this is extremely difficult for them to do.

Aspergers students frequently are visual learners.

Despite difficulties with eye contact, many Aspergers children are visual learners. Much of the information presented in classrooms is oral, and often children with Aspergers may have difficulty with processing language. Often they cannot take in oral language quickly, and presenting information visually may be more helpful. Many Aspergers children are "hands-on" learners.

Aspergers students and "showing work".

Many teachers require children to "show their work"; in other words, illustrate how they got the answer to a problem."Showing work" is a demand that usually accompanies math homework. This may not be the best strategy with the Aspergers child, and may in fact lead to a big disagreement with the child.

Since many Aspergers children are visual learners, they picture how to solve the problem in their heads. To make them write out how they got the answer seems quite illogical to them. Why would you waste your time writing out something you can see in your head? The requirement of "showing work" simply does not make any sense to them, and it may not be worth the time it would take to convince them to do the requirement anyway.

If the student with Aspergers is staring off into space or doodling, don't assume they're not listening.

Remember the Aspergers child may experience difficulty with communication, especially nonverbal communication. What appears to the teacher to be behavior illustrating a lack of attention on the part of the child may not be that at all. In fact, the Aspergers child who is doodling or staring off may actually be trying to focus him or herself through the act of doodling or staring. The child is unaware that nonverbally s/he is communicating to the teacher that "I'm not listening, or I'm bored." Doodling or staring may actually help the child with Aspergers focus more on what the teacher is presenting. You might simply ask the child a question to check if he or she is listening.

Students with Aspergers may experience difficulties with focusing as well as lack of focus.

Focus involves attention. Sometimes Aspergers children focus all their attention on a particular object or subject; therefore, they fail to focus on what information the instructor is presenting. All their energy is directed toward a particular subject or object. Why? Because that object or subject is not overwhelming to them and they understand it.

To overcome this problem, the teacher can try to establish some connection between the object or subject of interest and the area of study. For example, if a child is fascinated with skateboarding, the child could learn reading and writing skills through researching a famous skateboarder and writing a report. Math skills could be taught by looking at the statistics involving competitive skateboarders. The possibilities for instruction are endless, but it will take some time and creative planning on the part of the teacher.

Sensory issues affect learning for the student with Aspergers.

Often Aspergers children are distracted by something in the environment that they simply cannot control. To them, the ticking of the clock can seem like the beating of a drum, the breeze from an open window can feel like a tremendous gust, the smell of food from the cafeteria can overpower them and make them feel sick, the bright sunshine pouring through the windows may be almost blinding to them.

This sensory overload the Aspergers child experiences may overwhelm them, so focusing can be difficult and frustration occurs. Frustration can then lead to disruptions from the child. To cope with frustration, the child might choose to repeatedly tap a pencil on a desk (or another disruptive behavior) in order to focus because s/he is experiencing sensory overload. What appears disruptive to the teacher and the rest of the class may actually be a way for the Aspergers child to cope with the sensory overload.

Obviously, a teacher does not want disruptions in the classroom. Take time to evaluate the classroom in terms of sensory stimulation, and how the environment affects the child with Aspergers. Perhaps some modifications can be made, or the child can be taught some coping skills that are not disruptive to classmates, like squeezing a squishy ball in their hand or some similar activity.

Don't assume the student with Aspergers is disrupting class or misbehaving to get attention.

More often than not, children with Aspergers react to their environment, and sometimes the reaction can be negative. Sometimes the child may be reacting to a sensory issue, and other times the child may be reacting to a feeling of fear. The Aspergers child feels fear because of a lack of control over his/her response to the environment or because of a lack of predictability. The child with Aspergers does best with clear structure and routine. A visual schedule can be helpful for the child.

Students with Aspergers experience difficulty with transitions.

Often a child with Aspergers gets "stuck" and has difficulty moving from one activity to another. They may need to be coached through the transition, and if a typical school day is loaded with lots of transitions, the child faces increased anxiety. Moving from one activity to another is not a challenge for most children, but for the child with Aspergers transitions can be monumental tasks.

Some possible strategies a teacher, paraprofessional, or parent can use: visual schedules, role-playing or preparing the child by discussing upcoming activities. Appropriate strategies are dependent on the age of the child and his/her abilities.

As a teacher, paraprofessional or parent of a child with Aspergers, it's important to recognize the child's gifts as well as limitations. Children with Aspergers present a challenge for the people who work with them, but these children also enrich our lives. So when you're feeling frazzled, take a deep breath and remember that tomorrow is another day. This child will grow up and make a contribution to our world in some way we can only imagine, and you can help this child.

==> 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

Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum Avoid the "Back To School Jitters"

"I have a little boy with high functioning autism that is feeling a lot of dread now that he has returned to school. I would welcome some ideas on how to make this transition as smooth and stress free as possible."

Preparing kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) for the new school year requires a little more than making sure uniforms fit and backpacks are filled with all the necessary school supplies. Most U.S. schools will open their doors in August. Before then, moms and dads need to ensure all their documents are in order, transportation is prepared, and good communication is established with their youngster's school.

Here are 25 ways in which you can help your youngster prepare for the new school year:

1. Ask the school whether you will be able to walk your child into the classroom and hand him off to the teacher.  Find out how long you will be able to stay.  If you suspect that your son or daughter might have a hard time saying goodbye, by all means speak with the teacher now and make a plan for how to handle the first day. 

2. Ask the teacher to provide you with the daily class routine so that you can review this schedule with your child at home.

3. Be sure all children lay out clothes the night before, that lunches are made, and that everyone gets enough sleep and a healthy breakfast.  Plan to arrive at school early so you have time for meaningful goodbyes.  And don’t forget that “first day of school” photo before you leave home!

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

4. Bring a camera and ask to take photos of the new classroom, teacher and surroundings.

5. Create a “Transition Book” for your child. This is a book about your youngster’s new teacher and class. You can use the photos you took during your meeting at the school. Look at the book regularly to help your child become familiar with the new environment.

6. Encourage your child’s questions by asking what she thinks school will be like.  Emphasize the things you think she’ll enjoy, but be sure not to minimize her fears. Children can be stricken by worries that parents might find silly (e.g., finding the bathroom at school). Normalize any fears and reassure her that she will have fun, that the school can reach you if necessary, and that your love is always with her even when you aren’t.

7. Facilitate bonding with the other children. Children are always nervous about their new teacher, but if they know any of the other children, they’ll feel more at ease.  

8. Facilitate your child’s bonding with the teacher.  All children need to feel connected to their teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom.   Until they do, they are not ready to learn.  Experienced educators know this, and “collect” their students emotionally at the start of the school year. 

9. Find out what other children are in your child’s class and arrange a play date so she’ll feel more connected if she hasn’t seen these children all summer.

10. Get your child back on an early to bed schedule well before school starts.  Most children begin staying up late in the summer months.  But children need 9 ½ to 11 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age. Getting them back on schedule so they’re sound asleep by 9pm to be up at 7am for school takes a couple of weeks of gradually moving the bedtime earlier. Imposing an early bedtime cold turkey the night before school starts results in a youngster who simply isn’t ready for an earlier bedtime, having slept in that morning and with the night-before-school jitters.  In that situation, you can expect everyone’s anxiety to escalate.  So keep an eye on the calendar and start moving bedtime a bit earlier every night by having children read in bed for an hour before lights out, which is also good for their reading skills.

11. Get yourself to bed early the night before school so you can get up early enough to deal calmly with any last minute crises. 

12. If a younger sibling will be at home with you, be sure your child knows how boring it will be at home and how jealous you and the younger sibling are that you don’t get to go to school like a big kid.  Explain that every day after school you will have special time with your big girl to hear all about her day and have a snack together.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

13. If you’re new in town, make a special effort to meet other children in the neighborhood.  Often schools are willing to introduce new families to each other, allowing children to connect with other new students in the weeks before school starts. 

14. If your youngster gets teary when you say goodbye, reassure her that she will be fine and that you can’t wait to see her at the end of the day.  Use the goodbye routine you’ve practiced, and then hand her off to her teacher.  Don’t leave her adrift without a new attachment person, but once you’ve put her in good hands, don’t worry. 

15. Let your child choose his own school supplies, whether from around your house or from the store, and ready them in his backpack or bag. 

16. Make sure you’re a few minutes early to pick your child up that first week of school.  Not seeing you immediately will exacerbate any anxieties he has and may panic him altogether.  If your child cries when you pick him up, don’t worry.  You’re seeing the stress of his having to keep it together all day and be a big boy.

17. Moms and dads need to review special education documents such as individualized education plans, or IEPs, and meet with principals and, if possible, educators to ensure everyone is on the same page as far as the students' needs are concerned -- from modified teaching lessons to transportation.  Moms and dads should go through their youngster's IEPs before the school year starts and make a list of anything ambiguous, or something you don't quite understand.  After completing your homework, you may realize that your child's IEP is lacking or needs adjustment. You may want to consult with an independent professional (e.g., psychologist or behaviorist) and/or convene with the IEP team to discuss your youngsters changing needs. Moms and dads can call an IEP meeting at any time, and the district is required to hold the meeting at a mutually convenient date/time within 30 calendar days (beginning with the first day of school and excluding any breaks that are two weeks or more). As always, be sure to make your request in writing.

18. Once school has started, check-in with your child’s new teacher on a regular basis to see if the transition has been successful.

19. Research shows that children forget a lot during the summer.  If your child has been reading through the summer months, congratulations!  If not, this is the time to start.  Visit the library and let him pick some books he’ll enjoy.  Introduce the idea that for the rest of the summer everyone in the family will read for an hour every day.

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

20. Share your own stories about things you loved about school.

21. Start conversations about the next grade at school or about beginning school.  One good way to do this is to select books relating to that grade.  Your librarian can be helpful. Get your children excited by talking about what they can expect, including snack, playground, reading, computers, singing and art.  If you know other kids who will be in his class or in the school, be sure to mention that he will see or play with them. 

22. Take advantage of any orientation opportunities.  Many schools let new students, especially in the younger grades, come to school for an orientation session before school begins.  If the school doesn’t have such a program, ask if you and your child can come by to meet the new teacher for a few minutes a day or so before school starts.  Educators are busy preparing their rooms and materials at that time, but any experienced teacher is happy to take a few minutes to meet a new student and make him feel comfortable, since she knows that helps her students settle into the school year.

23. The day before school starts, talk about exactly what will happen the next day to give your child a comfortable mental movie. Be alert for signs that he is worried, and reflect that most children are a little nervous before the first day of school, but that he will feel right at home in his new classroom soon. 

24. There are many books and computer applications for kids that tell social stories. Provide your child with social stories that model appropriate behavior at school and with other kids.

25. Try to arrange for your child to travel to school that first morning with a youngster he or she knows. Even if they aren’t in the same classroom, it will ease last minute jitters.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

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Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...