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Integrating Young Adults with Asperger Syndrome with Typically Developing Peers

Integrating Young Adults with Asperger Syndrome with Typically Developing Peers: An Essential Step in the Transition to Independence

Kyle Avery, Ramapo for Children

For many young adults on the spectrum, especially those with Asperger Syndrome, comfortable interaction with typically developing peers is more a dream than a reality. Yet when they transition to college or the work force, the ability to socialize becomes a prerequisite for success. To grow their social and emotional skills, these young adults need safe opportunities to interact with typically developing peers. This is why Ramapo for Children’s Staff Assistant Experience provides an integrated, inclusive environment to help young adults with social, emotional, or learning challenges transition to independence.

Roadblocks on the Path to Independence

Regardless of challenges, all youth seek the same things: to learn, have friends, feel valued, and experience success. Once high school ends, the most common paths to those goals are college or work. But teens with autism spectrum disorders like Asperger Syndrome can experience alienation instead of achievement on these paths due to their characteristic lag in social skills. Some colleges offer programs that support young adults with special needs, but their focus is primarily academic and does little to mitigate the discomfort that those with social and emotional challenges face in the less structured campus environment. Offices and work environments are even less forgiving, and poor social skills are often cited as a primary source of difficulties when young adults with special needs enter the workplace.

The greatest obstacle between the young adults who experience these setbacks and their ability to align their behaviors with their aspirations is the opportunity to practice social situations. In an unstructured environment, entering conversations can be a terrifying and confidence-destroying prospect, and real-time debriefing either is not an option or comes in the form of admonishment instead of support. The only way to improve social skills is to repeatedly take part in interactions until they become part of daily routine. Additionally, receiving constructive feedback based on those interactions is a great, underutilized tool to supportively help young adults improve their communication skills, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and work to address them. Ramapo for Children takes the trepidation out of social interaction by fully immersing young adults with their typically developing peers and providing a safe space where mistakes and missteps become opportunities for improvement.

The Staff Assistant Experience: Supporting Young Adults in Transition

The Staff Assistant Experience is a residential transition-to-independence program for young adults with social, emotional, or learning challenges. The program offers participants an opportunity to improve and reinforce interpersonal, independent living, and job skills, build resilience and determination, and establish a future orientation. The program, based at Ramapo for Children’s Rhinebeck campus, is designed for young adults ages 18 to 25 who seek self-sufficiency and independence, but who have struggled in other, less supportive environments.

            The Staff Assistant Experience Helps Participants Develop:

·         Independent Living Skills—Ramapo provides coaching and instruction on such tasks as meal planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and household budgeting.
·         Social Skills—Ramapo provides a variety of social opportunities and special community events that foster positive interactions and encourage friendships.
·         Job Skills—Ramapo provides meaningful work opportunities to teach universally applicable vocational skills and help Staff Assistants manage relationships in the workplace.

Roommates, Job Coaches, Mentors: Immersion with Typically Developing Peers

The unique blending of social, work, and home life with typically developing peers is a hallmark of SAE. Participants live and work alongside these peers, who are their coworkers, colleagues, mentors, roommates, and friends. Being fully immersed with understanding and supportive peers who have greater social and emotional aptitude enables participants to gain comfort in social situations and provides ample opportunity to practice skill building. Participants receive immediate constructive feedback on social and professional development that recognizes their strengths and helps them improve their weaknesses. As one Staff Assistant noted about his experience on campus, “No one judges me, because everyone, kids and staff alike, are here to improve their skills and learn new things.” With everyone on the way to new achievements, missteps are taken in stride.

Building Social and Emotional Confidence One Day at a Time

These one-on-one interactions and skill support, along with the structured and inclusive environment, have helped Staff Assistants gain skills in everything from becoming more open-minded and starting conversations with peers, to slowing down and enunciating speech to facilitate conversations. With social and emotional skills broken down into achievable tasks, then modeled and reinforced by peers, everyday interactions that were once terrifying become manageable for Staff Assistants. The ease they gain on campus is directly applicable to future experiences in the workforce, higher education, or simply the everyday opportunities that enrich a young adult’s life.

Just as importantly, the Staff Assistant Experience helps participants feel like a part of a team in a way they never have before. With their colleagues and roommates, they’re “just one of the guys,” a member of the Ramapo family who can joke around with colleagues and have meaningful conversations with roommates without fear of rejection. The opportunity to be seen not as a diagnosis but as a friend and peer is what makes the Staff Assistant Experience work, and it’s what guides the Staff Assistants to new heights of independence and aptitude.

In addition to the Staff Assistant Experience, Ramapo for Children provides a residential summer camp for children ages 6 to 16 who are affected by social, emotional, or learning challenges; year-round retreats for young people, educators, and other community-based organizations; and adult training programs. For more information about Ramapo for Children or the Staff Assistant Experience, please visit or contact Kyle Avery at (646) 588-2308 or

Settling and Waking Problems in Children on the Autism Spectrum

"My son has a terrible time getting to sleep, but then in the mornings, I have a terrible time getting him up and out the door for school. Any suggestions?"

Unfortunately, it seems that virtually all kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are likely to suffer from disturbed sleep patterns at some point or another. Sleep problems can be divided into three main categories: (1) settling problems, where the youngster has difficulty going to sleep at the appropriate time, (2) waking problems, where the youngster wakes repeatedly during the night, and (3) arousal problems, where the child has a hard time waking up in the morning due to such a restless night.

Coping with settling/waking/arousal problems will require consistent reassurance on your part -- and a creative approach to your youngster's needs. Here are some tips:

1. Allergy and food sensitivities: Kids on the autism spectrum are perhaps more likely than their peers to be sensitive to foodstuffs (e.g., sugar, caffeine, additives, etc.), which can keep them awake. If your youngster frequently has sweet or caffeine-rich drinks and foodstuffs near bed time, then it is worth checking whether this could be disturbing his sleep.

2. Medication: Medical interventions are typically seen as a last resort in treating sleep disorders in kids because they can be habit-forming and do not treat the root cause of the problem. As a general rule, it is better to minimize the medication your youngster is on, but at certain times it may be desirable to have a mild sedative on hand (e.g., going on vacation). Some moms and dads have also found that using medication in tandem with a behavioral approach can help to restore a good sleep pattern. The combination is crucial, because without the behavioral intervention when the medical treatment ends, the youngster is likely to return to his old sleep patterns.

3. Melatonin: This is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which has been shown to regulate sleep patterns. In kids with the disorder, their patterns of melatonin secretion may be irregular, so it is not that they don't produce it, but that they don't produce it at the right times of day. Some foods are rich in melatonin (e.g., oats, rice, sweet corn, tomatoes, plums, bananas and Brazil nuts).

4. Natural remedies: Many of the natural remedies available from health food stores are supposed to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. These may have similar effects to conventional medicines but carry less risk of side-effects than conventional sedatives. You could also try contacting a homoeopath.

5. Removing stimulants from the diet: Changing your youngster's bedtime routine can be stressful, and if they are used to having certain drinks or snacks near bedtime, suddenly switching to something different may be counter-productive. However, you could change to decaffeinated drinks, replace ordinary chocolate with sugar-free chocolate bought in health food stores, use carob powder to replace cocoa and chocolate, switch to sugar-free drinks or replace sugar in drinks with sweetener or fruit sugar, which may help some kids. Alternatively, you could try gently phasing certain foods out over a period of days or weeks so that your youngster is consuming less and less sugar and caffeine overall without having anything suddenly taken away from them.

6. Lack of social sense: Kids with Aspergers and HFA may have difficulty understanding why and when they need to sleep. Problems with social cueing (i.e., learning why and in what order things should happen) are common in these children, and this may mean your youngster doesn’t make the connection between his family going to bed and his own need to sleep.

7. Establishing a routine: Kids on the spectrum respond well to routine and structure because it allows them to feel safe and in control. Whatever routine you try to impose needs to be something you feel comfortable implementing and that your family can agree on. It may take several weeks for it to alter your youngster's sleep patterns. It can help to present this routine visually, using a timetable for example, so your youngster knows exactly what to expect, including getting up in the morning. If the routine needs to be altered, it can then be explained visually. It may be that your youngster's timetable needs to be more detailed so that he is told exactly what to do when going to bed, for example, draw the curtains, get in to bed, turn light off, lie down, pull cover up, etc. It may also be worth setting aside some time to prepare for the next day in the routine. This could include getting the school bag ready or making a list/timetable of things that need to be done the next day.

8. Using relaxation techniques: Kids with Aspergers and HFA may not be able to articulate their need to unwind and relax, and they may feel more anxious and confused around bedtime. Relaxation techniques can be introduced in low-key, non-intrusive ways. Some possible techniques are as follows:
  • Adding a few drops of lavender oil to your youngster's bath or pillow.
  • Giving your youngster a massage. 
  • Introducing an hour's quiet time before the youngster's bedtime. 
  • Providing the youngster with a set time to talk about their day or their worries as part of the evening routine. 
  • Physically exhausting your kids is a good way of ensuring that they sleep! Many kids with Aspergers and HFA enjoy rough and tumble play, and although this may seem to be the opposite of the points made above regarding quiet time, it might be more effective for some kids. 
  • Relaxation aids such as music and yoga can be very useful. 
  • Some moms and dads have reported having lighting (e.g., a lava lamp) in the bedroom can be helpful.

9. Dealing with sensory issues:
  • It’s worth considering if smells in the room, or coming from other parts of the house, may affect children with heightened senses.
  • Some kids are exceptionally sensitive to light, so sleeping when there is even a very dim light on could be very difficult for them. Putting up thick curtains will block out as much light as possible in your youngster's room. 
  • Some moms and dads have found that their kids can be woken by very slight sounds at night. Ear plugs, or music playing on headphones, could be used to block out noise for those kids who are comfortable with wearing these.
  • The layout of the room may need to be adjusted. Although it may be comforting for some kids to have lots of their belongings around them, it may serve to be quite distracting for others. Even the colors of the room or pictures on the wall may be disturbing. 
  • Touch sensitivity is extremely common in Aspergers and HFA. Some kids experience certain types of touch as physical pain. Labels on bed clothes and different materials can also be uncomfortable. Some kids respond well to a weighted blanket, which is made from thick blanket material like a quilt with the pockets filled with beans.

10. Keeping a diary: If you think your youngster may have a sleep disorder and you want to get an idea of the extent of the problem, it is a good idea to keep a sleep diary as the initial step to solving the problem. If you decide to try any routines or behavioral modifications to help your youngster to sleep, then the sleep diary will allow you to see if what you are doing is working consistently, sporadically or not at all.

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

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

Organization Skills for Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

"Any tips on how I can help my child get more organized? He loses and misplaces many things, including homework and school books, which is now affecting his grades. Help!"

Children and teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have deficits in what we call “cognitive function” (i.e., the intellectual process by which we think, reason, understand ideas, and remember things). So a child with Aspergers may have difficulties with:
  • “executive function” (i.e., he/she may be detail-focused and less able to see the whole picture)
  • predicting the consequences of an action (e.g., “If you do this, what will happen next?”) 
  • processing information 
  • understanding the concept of time

One or all of these four examples can affect Aspergers kid’s ability to organize, prioritize and sequence (e.g., if they struggle to understand the concept of time, they will have difficulty planning what to do over the course of a week).

Below are some ways in which children and teens with Aspergers and HFA can organize and prioritize daily activities and tasks. At first, parents may need to have a lot of involvement introducing the techniques and helping their child to get used to using them. Also, the techniques can be used in more than one place (e.g., at home and at school). Therefore, it is important that everyone who is using them (e.g., parents, babysitters, teachers, friends, etc.) uses them consistently. Over time, most children and teens with Aspergers will be able to use the strategies independently (although some may always need a certain degree of support).

Organizations Skills—

1. Be a coach: For the best results, you'll want to be a low-key coach. You can ask questions that will help your child get on track and stay there. But use these questions only to prompt their thought process about what needs to be done.

2. Color coding for tasks: Colors can be used to indicate the importance or significance of tasks (e.g., chores, homework, etc.), and therefore help to prioritize tasks and work through them in a logical sequence. For example, a note on the child’s bulletin board written in red could mean “urgent.” A note on the bulletin board written in green could mean “pending.” And a note written in blue is not important or has no timescale attached to it.

3. Lists: Lists, both written and pictorial, can help children with Aspergers in the same way as color coding. Lists can also be a good way of (a) registering achievements (e.g., by crossing something off when he/she has completed the task) and (b) reassuring the child that he/she is getting things done.

4. Make a plan: Decide on one thing to focus on first. You can come up with three things and let your youngster choose one (e.g., if homework or a particular chore has been a problem, that's the natural place to begin).

5. Praise progress, but don't go overboard: The self-satisfaction children will feel will be a more powerful motivator.

6. Sell your youngster on the idea of “staying organized”: Brainstorm about what might be easier or better if your youngster was more organized and focused. Maybe homework would get done faster, there would be more play time, and there would be less nagging about chores. Then there's the added bonus of your youngster feeling proud and you being proud, too.

7. Set expectations: Be clear, in a kind way, that you expect your children to work on these skills and that you'll be there to help along the way.

8. Social stories and comic strip conversations: Social stories and comic strip conversations can be a really good way of illustrating the consequences of an action and can help children to understand why it's good to be organized (e.g., what might happen if the child doesn't get his/her homework done).

9. Task boxes, envelopes and files: Children can store work or belongings in set places, so that they aren't misplaced or forgotten.

10. Teaching materials: You may find that certain teaching materials (e.g., sequence cards, games, timers, clocks, etc.) help some Aspergers kids to understand the concept of time and sequences. Materials like this can be adapted and used in different places (e.g., home and school).

11. Times of day, days of the week: It may be easiest to use times of day (e.g., morning, afternoon or evening) or days of the week (e.g., Sunday through Saturday) to help the child plan and organize tasks, social activities and other events (e.g., 5:00 PM is “homework time” … or Monday is “laundry day”).

12. Visual supports: Using pictures, written lists, calendars and real objects can all be good ways of helping Aspergers kids to understand what is going to happen – and when! For example, the child might have a daily timetable with pictures of a shower, clothes, breakfast, their school, dinner, a toothbrush, pajamas, and a bed to indicate what he/she will be doing, and in what order, that day. This can help children plan their day and organize themselves.

13. Get feedback: Be sure to ask your youngster's opinion of how things are going so far.

14. Start thinking in questions: Though you might not realize it, every time you take on a task, you ask yourself questions and then answer them with thoughts and actions. If you want to unload groceries from the car, you ask yourself:

Q: Did I get them all out of the trunk?
A: No. I'll go get the rest.

Q: Did I close the trunk?
A: Yes.

Q: Where's the ice cream? I need to put it away first.
A: Done. Now, what's next?

Encourage your child to start seeing tasks as a series of questions and answers. Suggest that he/she ask these questions out loud and then answer them. These questions are the ones you hope will eventually live inside your youngster's head. And with practice, he/she will learn to ask them without being prompted. So, work together to come up with questions that need to be asked so the chosen task can be completed. You might even jot them down on index cards. Start by asking the questions and having your youngster answer. Later, transfer responsibility for the questions from you to your youngster.

15. Digital devices:
  • Computer calendars can have important dates stored on them, or reminders about when to complete a certain chore.
  • Mobile phones can be used to store important information, or to act as a reminder.
  • Radios and televisions can be set to come on at a particular time as a reminder to do something. 
  • Instructions can be sent by text. Text messages lend themselves to this especially well since parents should keep instructions brief and simple. 
  • Hand-held voice recorders can be a useful auditory reminder of tasks, work, events or deadlines.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

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…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

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...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

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…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

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…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

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...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content