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Effective Teaching Strategies for Aspergers and HFA Students (Summary of PowerPoint Presentation)

The following summary identifies the specific learning difficulties of Aspergers and high functioning autistic students and suggests a number of possible classroom strategies:

Difficulties with language—
  • “Comic Strip Conversations” can be applied to a range of problems with conversation skills
  • difficulty understanding complex language, following directions, and understanding intent of words with multiple meanings
  • encourage the student to ask for an instruction to be repeated, simplified or written down if he does not understand
  • explain metaphors and words with double meanings
  • limit oral questions to a number the student can manage
  • pause between instructions and check for understanding
  • small group instruction for conversational skills
  • teach appropriate opening comments
  • teach rules and cues regarding turn-taking in conversation and when to reply, interrupt or change the topic
  • teach student to seek assistance when confused
  • tendency to interrupt
  • tendency to make irrelevant comments
  • tendency to talk on one topic and to talk over the speech of others
  • use audio taped and videotaped conversations
  • watch videos to identify nonverbal expressions and their meanings

Insistence on sameness—
  • use pictures, schedules and social stories to indicate impending changes
  • wherever possible prepare the student for potential change

Impairment in social interaction—
  • difficulty reading the emotions of others
  • difficulty understanding "unwritten rules" and when they do learn them, may apply them rigidly
  • difficulty understanding the rules of social interaction
  • educate peers about how to respond to the student’s disability in social interaction
  • encourage cooperative games
  • explicitly teach rules of social conduct
  • interprets literally what is said
  • lacks tact
  • may be na├»ve
  • may need to develop relaxation techniques and have a quiet place to go to relax
  • may need to provide supervision and support for the student at breaks and recess
  • problems with social distance
  • provide clear expectations and rules for behavior
  • structured social skills groups can provide opportunity for direct instruction on specific skills and to practice actual events
  • teach flexibility, cooperation and sharing
  • teach the student how to interact through social stories, modeling and role-playing
  • teach the student how to start, maintain and end play
  • teach the students how to monitor their own behavior
  • use a buddy system to assist the student during non-structured times
  • use other children as cues to indicate what to do

Restricted range of interests—
  • incorporate and expand on interest in activities and assignments
  • limit perseverative discussions and questions
  • set firm expectations for the classroom, but also provide opportunities for the student to pursue his own interests

Poor concentration—
  • break down assignments
  • difficulty sustaining attention
  • distractible
  • frequent teacher feedback and redirection
  • may be disorganized
  • often off task
  • reduced homework assignments
  • seating at the front
  • timed work sessions
  • use nonverbal cues to get attention

Poor organizational skills—
  • help the student to use "to do" lists and checklists
  • maintain lists of assignments
  • picture cues in lockers
  • pictures on containers and locker
  • use schedules and calendars

Poor motor coordination—
  • consider the use of a computer for written assignments, as some students may be more skilled at using a keyboard than writing
  • involve in fitness activities
  • may prefer fitness activities to competitive sports
  • provide extra time for tests
  • take slower writing speed into account when giving assignments (length often needs to be reduced)

Academic difficulties—
  • areas of difficulty include poor problem solving, comprehension problems and difficulty with abstract concepts
  • avoid verbal overload
  • be as concrete as possible in presenting new concepts and abstract material
  • break down tasks into smaller steps or present it another way
  • capitalize on strengths, e.g., memory
  • check for comprehension, supplement instruction and use visual supports
  • do not assume that they have understood what they have read
  • don’t assume that the student has understood simply because he/she can re-state the information
  • good recall of factual information
  • may do well at mathematical computations, but have difficulty with problem solving
  • often strong in word recognition and may learn to read very early, but difficulty with comprehension
  • provide direct instruction as well as modeling
  • show examples of what is required
  • use activity-based learning where possible
  • use graphic organizers such as semantic maps
  • use outlines to help student take notes and organize and categorize information
  • usually average to above average intelligence

Emotional vulnerability—
  • easily stressed due to inflexibility
  • educate other students
  • help the student to understand his/her behaviors and reactions of others
  • may be prone to depression
  • may have difficulties coping with the social and emotional demands of school
  • may have difficulty tolerating making mistakes
  • may have rage reactions and temper outbursts
  • often have low self-esteem
  • provide experiences in which the person can make choices
  • provide positive praise and tell the student what she/he does right or well
  • teach techniques for coping with difficult situations and for dealing with stress
  • teach the student to ask for help
  • use peer supports such as buddy systems and peer support network
  • use rehearsal strategies

Sensory Sensitivities—
  • be aware that normal levels of auditory and visual input can be perceived by the student as too much or too little
  • confusing, complex or multiple sounds such as in shopping centers
  • having the student listen to music can camouflage certain sounds
  • high-pitched continuous noise
  • it may be necessary to avoid some sounds
  • keep the level of stimulation within the student’s ability to cope
  • minimize background noise
  • most common sensitivities involve sound and touch, but may also include taste, light intensity, colors and aromas
  • sudden, unexpected noises such as a telephone ringing, fire alarm
  • teach and model relaxation strategies and diversions to reduce anxiety
  • types of noises that may be perceived as extremely intense are:
  • use of ear plugs if very extreme

***Additional Guidelines***

General Behaviors—
  • At times, the student may experience "meltdowns" when nothing may help behavior. At times like this, please allow a "safe and quiet spot" where the student will be allowed to "cool off." Try to take note of what occurred before the meltdown (was it an unexpected change in routine, for example) and it's best to talk "after" the situation has calmed down.
  • Foster a classroom atmosphere that supports the acceptance of differences and diversity.
  • Generally speaking, a grown-up speaking in a calm voice will reap many benefits.
  • It is important to remember that just because the student learns something in one situation, this doesn't automatically mean that they remember or are able to generalize the learning to new situations.
  • Note strengths often and visually. This will give the student the courage to keep on plugging.
  • The student may have vocal outbursts or shriek. Be prepared for them, especially when having a difficult time. Also, please let the other students know that this is a way of dealing with stress or fear.
  • The student may need help with problem-solving situations. Please be willing to take the time to help with this.
  • The student reacts well to positive and patient styles of teaching.
  • This syndrome is characterized by a sort of "Swiss cheese" type of development (i.e., some things are learned age-appropriately, while other things may lag behind or be absent).
  • Students may have skills years ahead of normal development (e.g., a student may understand complex mathematics principles, yet not be able to remember to bring their homework home).
  • When dividing up assignments, please ASSIGN teams rather than have the other students "choose members", because this increases the chances that the student will be left out or teased.
  • When it reaches a point that things in the classroom are going well, it means that we've gotten it RIGHT. It doesn't mean that the student is "cured", "never had a problem" or that "it's time to remove support". Increase demands gradually.
  • When you see anger or other outbursts, the student is not being deliberately difficult. Instead, this is in a "fight/fright/flight" reaction. Think of this as an "electrical circuit overload." Prevention can sometimes head off situations if you see the warning signs coming.

  • Allowing the student to write down the question or thought and providing a response in writing may break the stresses/cycle.
  • It is more helpful if you avoid being “pulled in” by answering the same thing over and over or raising your voice or pointing out that the question is being repeated. Instead, try to redirect the student's attention or find an alternative way so he/she can save face.
  • The student may repeat the same thing over and over again, and you may find that this increases as stress increases.

  • Giving one or two warnings before a change of activity or schedule may be helpful.
  • The student may have a great deal of difficulty with transitions. Having a picture or word schedule may be helpful.
  •  Please try to give as much advance notice as possible if there is going to be a change or disruption in the schedule.

Sensory Motor Skills/Auditory Processing—
  • Breaking directions down into simple steps is quite helpful.
  • Directions are more easily understood if they are repeated clearly, simply and in a variety of ways.
  • The student has difficulty understanding a string of directions or too many words at one time.
  • The student may act in a very clumsy way; she may also react very strongly to certain tastes, textures, smells and sounds.
  • Speaking slower and in smaller phrases can help.
  • Using picture cures or directions may also help.

  • Allow the student to "move about" as sitting still for long periods of time can be very difficult (even a 5 minute walk around, with a friend or aide can help a lot).
  • He may get over-stimulated by loud noises, lights, strong tastes or textures, because of the heightened sensitivity to these things.
  • Unstructured times (e.g., lunch, break, PE) may prove to be the most difficult for him. Please try to help provide some guidance and extra adults help during these more difficult times.
  • With lots of other kids, chaos and noise, please try to help him find a quiet spot to which he can go for some "solace".

Visual Cues—
  • Hand signals may be helpful, especially to reinforce certain messages, such as "wait your turn", "stop talking" (out of turn), or "speak more slowly or softly".
  • Some Aspergers and HFA students learn best with visual aids, such as picture schedules, written directions or drawings (other students may do better with verbal instruction).

  • At times, it may take more than few seconds for my student to respond to questions. He needs to stop what he's thinking, put that somewhere, formulate an answer and then respond. Please wait patiently for the answer and encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, he will have to start over again.
  • When someone tries to help by finishing his sentences or interrupting, he often has to go back and start over to get the train of thought back.

Eye Contact—
  • At times, it looks as if the student is not listening to you when he really is. Don't assume that because he is not looking at you that he is not hearing you.
  • She may actually hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.
  • Unlike most of us, sometimes forcing eye contact BREAKS her concentration.

Social Skills and Friendships—
  • Identifying 1 or 2 empathetic students who can serve as "buddies" will help the student feel as though the world is a friendlier place.
  • Students with Aspergers and HFA may be at greater risk for becoming "victims" of bullying behavior by other students. This is caused by a couple of factors: (1) there is a great likelihood that the response or "rise" that the "bully" gets from the Aspergers or HFA student reinforces this kind of behavior; (2) Asperger kids want to be included and/or liked so badly that they are reluctant to "tell" on the bully, fearing rejection from the perpetrator or other students.
  • Talking with the other members of the class may help, if done in a positive way and with the permission of the family. For example, talking about the fact that many or most of us have challenges and that the Aspergers or HFA student's challenge is that he cannot read social situations well, just as others may need glasses or hearing aids.
  • They may want to make friends very badly, yet not have a clue as to how to go about it.

  • Let him know, if possible, when there will be a substitute teacher or a field trip occurring during regular school hours.
  • Please let the student know of any anticipated changes as soon as you know them, especially with picture or word schedules.
  • This is very important to most students o the autism spectrum, but can be very difficult to attain on a regular basis in our world.

  • Sarcasm and some forums of humor are often not understood by my student. Even explanations of what is meant may not clarify, because the perspectives of an Aspergers or HFA student can be unique and, at times, immovable.
  • Although his vocabulary and use of language may seem high, students on the autism spectrum may not know the meaning of what they are saying even though the words sound correct.

Organizational Skills—
  • If necessary allow her to copy the notes of other students or provide her with a copy.
  • It may be helpful to develop schedules (picture or written) for him.
  • Many students on the spectrum are also dysgraphic and they are unable to listen to you talk, read the board and take notes at the same time.
  • Please post schedules and homework assignments on the board and make a copy for him. Please make sure that these assignments get put into his backpack because he can't always be counted on to get everything home without some help.
  • The student lacks the ability of remember a lot of information or how to retrieve that information for its use.

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

How to Conduct an Assessment for Aspergers

How does a diagnostician or clinician conduct an assessment for Aspergers?

Autism Spectrum Disorders are very complex, yet their features can be very subtle; they are not always obvious on the surface. As a result, an Aspergers (high-functioning autism) assessment will take more time than most other assessments. Below are the methods that clinicians who are new to the field of Aspergers can use as a guide. These are also the methods that moms and dads should look for to make sure they are getting a good assessment for their Aspergers child.

An assessment should be conducted by a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist who has expertise in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This is important because most degree programs may only give passing information about Aspergers. A clinician may have a lot of experience in evaluating and may know the DSM criteria for Aspergers – but knowing the criteria on paper is not the same as having the background to really know all of the subtle features to look for. If you are a clinician and do not have the background experience with Aspergers yet, consult with a clinician who does. If you are a mother or father getting an Aspergers assessment done, ask about the background experience of the clinician.

Assess each of the core areas of difficulty along with the more subtle characteristics. Aspergers involves qualitative difficulties in language, social interactions, and more stereotyped and repetitive behaviors and interests; however, there cannot be a real delay in language – but it does often involve difficulties in how language is being used.

It is not enough to question parents about language delays or social interactions or interests. A good assessment will look at how behaviors are being exhibited. Even if the Aspergers child is social, the clinician needs to look at whether he/she can take other people's perspective:
  • Does he have imaginative play?
  • Does he demonstrate sensory preferences that interfere with required or socially desires activities?
  • Does he approach others and initiate interactions?
  • Can he talk about someone else' preferred topic?
  • Can he switch tasks when redirected fairly easily?
  • Can he listen as well as talk?

These are just some of the more subtle behaviors that need to be observed in Aspergers kids who may be higher functioning. This goes beyond just asking, "Does your son or daughter socialize?"

Use observation in a variety of settings as the core of the assessment. Behaviors can be exhibited for more than one reason. For example, escape, reactions to sensory processing difficulties, attention seeking, and seeking rewards can all be the basis for behaviors. A question on a form reveals that a behavior is being exhibited, but does not reveal why or exactly what the behavior looks like. The only way to know the "why" of many behaviors is to observe in natural settings and to spend time with the Aspergers youngster.

It is not enough to simply observe the Aspergers child in a clinical setting. If clinicians take the child to an unfamiliar location and put her in a room with grown-ups that she has never seen before and then ask the parent to leave the room, you will not get a good picture of how this child interacts with others. If it is not possible to observe the child in a natural setting, then ask the parents if they can videotape their child during various activities.

It is critical to observe the child – close up – in a small playgroup. Observing play and social interactions may look good from a distance; however, when the clinician can (a) hear everything that is being said, (b) follow the child’s eyes, (c) see how he responds to interruptions and so forth, then the clinician can really assess the details of those interactions and begin to interpret them as possibly on the spectrum or not. The clinician can also tell if the child’s play is “parallel play” or if it is really “cooperative play.” Observations not only support the diagnosis, but they are essential in order to give individualized, rather than generic, recommendations.

Clinicians should pair observations with interviews, ratings scales and direct assessment. One rating scale alone should not be the actual assessment. However, rating scales should be given to support observations. If the results do match what is being observed, then check to make sure that the rating scales were completed correctly and ask the rater for examples of what was being rated high in the scales. For example, a behavior could be rated as being "frequently" observed. If it is occurring about 2 times per day, it may seem frequent, but according to the key on some scales, "frequent" is defined as 6 or more times in a 6 hour period. Thus, 2 times per day should be rated as "sometimes" observed. Also, make sure that the scoring follows the key, and get information about what the behavior looks like as well as examples of when and how it occurs. Many of the rating scales (e.g., Gilliam scales, CARS) have a high validity rating, and they are usually fairly correct; however, they are not always correct and cannot be used to make a diagnosis because the reported behaviors could be due to different causes.

Rule out other disorders that have similar characteristics. Many behaviors can be associated with more than one diagnosis. The trick is to look at what the underlying causes of the behaviors are – and what is maintaining the behaviors. With an Aspergers diagnosis, it is crucial to put all of the information together to get the big picture because Aspergers is a spectrum disorder (i.e., a spectrum of behaviors across three major areas of difficulty). If the clinician only looks at behaviors on the surface, then multiple diagnoses will be given for the same behaviors – or the child will get a misdiagnosis. If, for example, a child receives the diagnoses of ADHD, Bipolar, Autism, and ODD all at the same time, it’s likely that the clinician “cut some corners” and conducted a poor assessment. It is definitely possible to have a dual diagnosis that is accurate, but a good assessment will differentiate between diagnoses.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

The Benefits of "Therapy Pets" for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Pets and kids with Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can be a great combination and give these children an opportunity to relate to another living being. Children with behavioral and social issues can be difficult to work with, and most of them have trouble trusting others. Dogs, cats, elephants, lizards, rabbits and horses can successfully be used in animal therapy (called Animal Assisted Therapy).

Animal Assisted Therapy provides an experience with an animal that is non-judgmental, gives affection unconditionally, and provides opportunities for physical and emotional therapy. This includes therapy for strengthening muscles through horseback riding, low-impact swimming with dolphins, and a boost of confidence with service dogs and companion dogs. These pets promote confidence and self-esteem while motivating children on the autism spectrum to interact and get stronger.

There are many cases in which kids with Asperger's and HFA have close relationship with special pets (e.g., dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.). The violent tendencies of "special needs" kids disappear while they play with the pet. Having a pet often promotes a healthy personality in kids, including trusting, respecting, contributing, self-confidence, commitment and responsibility. It also can teach these kids problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, language and social skills.

A meta-analysis found that animal-assisted therapy is associated with improving medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional problems in kids on the spectrum. They also report the following improvements in:
  • Attention skills (i.e., paying attention, staying on task)
  • Leisure/recreation skills
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Reducing loneliness
  • Self-esteem
  • Verbal interactions between group members

The research into Animal Assisted Therapy is relatively new, and professionals believe more research is needed. However, there's a general consensus that “therapy pets” aid in the treatment of kids with Asperger's and HFA. As with other types of animal assisted therapy, the introduction of the animal seems to calm and soothe these kids. Often, they begin making eye contact with the animal first, then with people. Therapy usually results in these kids becoming more open – first with the pets, and then with people.

Moms and dads often bring a pet into the family to teach their child a sense of responsibility, or perhaps to provide him/her with a playmate. But these kids often learn something more fundamental about themselves and the world: how to empathize with others, how to understand subtle feelings, and how to look at the world from a vastly different perspective. The youngster learns how the world and living things are interconnected.

On the emotional level, pets can teach autistic kids many things, including:
  • Communication: The kids learn the subtle cues their pets give them to indicate their feelings. They can later apply this lesson to human interaction because they are more attuned to watching for body posture.
  • Confidence: The kids go through life under constant evaluation. They are rated by their behavior, grades and athletic performance. This is especially true of middle school students. Pets have no such expectations; they're delighted that the youngster is with them. Pets give kids the sense of unconditional acceptance. No judging or rating is involved.
  • Empathy: The kids often become curious about the emotions their pets feel. This curiosity will extend itself to others. Animals offer an avenue for kids to explore their curiosity. For a youngster, curiosity can lead to hope and to greater engagement with the world around them.
  • Nurturing skills: If properly supervised by adults, a youngster learns how to take care of another living being, and take pleasure in keeping the pet healthy and happy.
  • Resilience to change: The kids who undergo traumatic experiences often cope better when they have a pet to confide in. Loneliness is very dangerous to kids. Having an animal companion can make them feel a part of something.

One study explored the relationship between pets and Asperger's kids. Specifically, the study, conducted by a child psychologist in New Mexico, looked at the effect dog ownership had on 10- to 12-year-olds. The researcher was surprised at the difference in empathy and self-esteem between pre-adolescents who owned a dog and those who did not. This research supported the growing body of evidence that shows dog ownership has statistically significant impact on self-esteem and sensitivity toward others. A pet has no such measures of success or failure; acceptance is total, which provides a sense of self worth.

Pets also teach these young people about the importance of taking care of themselves. For instance, one therapist says she teaches kids why it is important to take care of a pet, brush his teeth and keep him clean. When they understand the importance, the therapist turns the focus on the kids themselves. If brushing a dog's teeth is important for his health, then naturally it is important for the youngster's well being.

This doesn't necessarily mean that all kids with the disorder are ready for pet ownership. Moms and dads should first make sure their youngster desires a pet before rushing out to get one. Together, they should decide what type of pet is best. Moreover, don't assume your youngster will take care of the pet. The ultimate responsibility usually falls on the parent, not the kid, to make sure the pet is healthy.

As most of us with pets realize, pets can be a source of comfort and happiness. It is no surprise that they can also have therapeutic and healing benefits. The playful nature of pets seems to help bring kids with Asperger's and HFA out of isolation.  

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

==> 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

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.


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