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Assisting the Peer-Rejected Student: Tips for Teachers of Kids of the Spectrum

Playing and conversing with classmates is a daily routine for school-aged kids. But children with ASD (Aspergers, High Functioning Autism) are often isolated and rejected by their peers. Their problems making and keeping a “buddy” are exacerbated by their poor social skills.

The sensitive educator should realize that kids go to school for a living. School is their job, their livelihood, and their identity. Thus, the crucial role that teachers play in the youngster's social development and self-concept should not be under-estimated. Even if a youngster is enjoying “academic success,” her attitude about school will be determined by the degree of “social success” she experiences.

There is much that the educator can do to promote social development in the special needs child. Kids tend to fall into four basic social categories in the school environment:
  1. Children who, although not openly rejected, are ignored by peers and are uninvolved in the social aspects of school.
  2. Children who have successfully established positive relationships within a variety of social settings.
  3. Children who “fit-in” with a peer-group based on common interests, but seldom move beyond that group.
  4. Children who are consistently rejected, bullied and harassed by peers.

Many children with ASD find themselves in the rejected/bullied subgroup. Their reputations as being rather “odd” plague them over the years. It is important for the educator to assist the youngster’s peers in changing their view of this boy or girl.

Discipline is a rather ineffective method of correcting bullying or rejecting behavior. For example, if the teacher disciplines Michael for insulting Ronnie, she only increases Michael's resentment of Ronnie. But, the teacher can increase Michael’s level of acceptance in several ways. Here’s how:

1. Assign the youngster to work in pairs with a “socially skilled” youngster who will be accepting and supportive. Cooperative activities can be especially effective in the effort to include the rejected youngster in class. These activities enable the youngster to use her academic strengths while simultaneously developing her social skills.

2. Assign the rejected youngster to a leadership position in class wherein his peers become dependent on him (e.g., line leader). This can serve to increase his status and acceptance. However, understand that this may be an unfamiliar role for the student, and he may require some guidance from the teacher in order to ensure success.

3. Attempt to determine specific interests, hobbies or strengths of the rejected youngster. This can be accomplished through discussions, interviews or surveys. Once the teacher has identified the youngster's strengths, celebrate it in a very public manner. For example, if the child has a particular interest in Indian wood carvings, find a ‘read-aloud’ adventure story in which an Indian plays an important role in the plot. Encourage the youngster to bring a couple of his Indian wood carvings to class and show how they were made. By playing the expert role, a rejected youngster can greatly increase his status.

4. Board and card games can be used to foster social development in class. These activities require children to utilize a variety of social skills (e.g., voice modulation, taking turns, sportsmanship, dealing with competition, etc.). These activities can also be used to promote academic skills. Since games are often motivating for children, this activity can be used as positive reinforcement.


5. Educators at the high school level must be particularly aware of the teen that is being rejected by peers. During the teenage years, it is very important that the youngster be accepted by his peers. The rejection suffered by teens with social skill deficits often places them at risk for emotional problems.

6. The child with social skill deficits invariably experiences rejection in any activity that requires children to select classmates for teams or groups. This selection process generally finds the rejected youngster in the awkward position of being the "last one picked." Avoid these humiliating situations by pre-selecting the teams or drawing names from a hat.

7. The educator can assist the youngster by making him aware of the traits that are widely-accepted and admired by his peers (e.g., when a particular child converses, extends invitations, gives compliments, greets others, laughs, shares, smiles, tells jokes, etc.).

8. The educator needs to recognize the critical role that the youngster's mom and dad – and even siblings – can play in the development of social competency. Ask the youngster’s mother or father to visit school for a conference to discuss the child’s social status and needs. School and home must work in concert to ensure that target skills are reinforced and monitored. Social goals should be listed and prioritized. Focus on a small set of social skills (e.g., making eye contact, sharing, and taking turns) rather than trying to deal simultaneously with the entire inventory of social skills.

9. The educator should demonstrate acceptance of - and affection for - the rejected youngster. This conveys the constant message that this youngster is worthy of attention. The educator can use her status as a leader to increase the status of the youngster.

10. The socially incompetent youngster often experiences isolation and rejection in his neighborhood, on the school bus, and in peer-group activities. The educator can provide this child with a learning environment wherein he can feel comfortable, accepted and welcome. Coming to school every day can become a helpless event for some kids on the spectrum – unless they succeed at what they do. Educators are shields against that helplessness.


•    Mama said... I have always known this but getting teachers to get on board in public schools is nearly imposible. I'm so happy that Mark Hutten has brought this up. Sincerely, Marie Donily
•    Unknown said... Hello, this website has become one of our most informative sites for information. Our 13-year-old was just "transferred" to an alternative behavior school because of lack of understanding on teachers' parts. Now he is feeling punished because lack of understanding of his diagnosis
•    MartinKids said... I actually have the opposite problem- my 2nd grade son is receiving wonderful support and has plenty of 'playmates' at school. However, all of the children on our block have ostracized him and taunt him whenever he goes out in front(often in front of me!) The parents are either contributing to the stigma or are totally clueless. I would LOVE to read an article on how to handle this situation!
•    MartinKids said... I have the opposite problem with my 2nd grade son. He receives excellent support and has made several playmates at school. However, all of the kids on our block have ostracized him almost since we moved in. They ignore him and taunt him whenever he plays out front (even in front of me!) and their parents either seem to contribute to his stigma or are totally clueless. He seems to be handling this rejection well now, but I worry about how this treatment will affect him in middle school. I would LOVE to see an article offering tips for this situation!
•    Kelly said... You may not get this reply as I see you posted over three years ago but I'm having the same problem. Did you figure anything out?
•    MartinKids said... Unfortunately nothing ever resolved, just time went on, the two families we had the most issues with moved away and the new families have much younger children. My son does not interact very much with the kids that are left as he homeschools now and and they attend public school. Sadly, by the end of fourth grade he was already starting to be excluded and treated differently, so we pulled him out to homeschool him with his siblings. The kids in our main social group are more accepting of him, although he only has one good friend the others don't pick on him. Even more disappointing is his involvement with Boy Scouts, the adults were actually super caring and willing to accommodate his needs but the boys excluded him.:( I am incredibly thankful for our homeschooling friends who love him and have taught their children to be kind even if they aren't super close to him. :)


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Aspergers Children

There are many conditions associated with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. In this video, we look specifically at obsessive-compulsive disorder, and its treatment:

Identifying the Underlying Causes of “Difficult Behavior” in Kids on the Spectrum

"As a teacher, I would like to ask you what method you use to find the real reasons [or triggers] for behavior problems in students with high functioning autism?"

In order to identify the underlying causes of difficult behaviors in children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) must be performed. An FBA is an approach that incorporates a variety of techniques to diagnose the causes and to identify likely interventions intended to address difficult behaviors.

An FBA looks beyond the actual problem behavior, and instead, focuses on identifying biological, social, affective, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end the problem behavior in question. The FBA is important because it leads the researcher beyond the "symptom" (i.e., the behavior) to the child's underlying motivation to escape, avoid, or get something (i.e., the cause of the behavior). Behavior intervention plans stemming from the knowledge of why a child misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of issues.

The “functions” of behavior are not usually considered inappropriate. Rather, it is the behavior itself that is judged appropriate or inappropriate. For example, getting good grades and engaging in problematic behavior may serve the same function (e.g., to get attention), but the behaviors that lead to good grades are judged to be more appropriate than those that make up acting-out behavior.

As an example, if the IEP team determines through an FBA that a child is seeking attention by misbehaving, they can develop a plan to teach the child more appropriate ways to gain attention, thus fulfilling the child's need for attention with an alternative behavior that serves the same function as the inappropriate behavior. By incorporating an FBA into the IEP process, team members can develop a plan that teaches “replacement behaviors” that serve the same function as the difficult behavior.

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

Before an FBA can be implemented, it is necessary to identify the behavior that is causing problems, and to define that behavior in concrete terms that are easy to communicate and simple to measure and record. If descriptions of behaviors are vague (e.g., child has a “bad attitude”), it is difficult to determine appropriate interventions.

It will be necessary to observe the child's behavior in different settings and during different types of activities, and to conduct interviews with parents and teachers in order to identify the specific traits of the behavior. Once the difficult behavior has been defined concretely, the IEP team can begin to devise a plan for conducting an FBA to determine the functions of the behavior.

Since difficult behavior stems from a variety of causes, it is best to examine the behavior from as many different angles as possible. The IEP team should assess what the "pay-off" for engaging in problem behavior is, or what the child escapes/avoids/gets by engaging in the problem behavior. This assessment will enable the team to identify workable techniques for developing and conducting an FBA and developing behavior interventions.

When carrying out these tasks, the IEP team should find answers to a few critical questions. Addressing these questions will assist the team in determining the necessary components of the assessment plan, and will lead to more effective behavior intervention plans. Questions to ask include the following:
  • Are there any settings where the problem behavior does not occur?
  • Does the child find any value in engaging in appropriate behavior?
  • Does the child have the skills necessary to perform expected behaviors?
  • Does the child realize that he is engaging in unacceptable behavior, or has that behavior simply become a "habit"? 
  • Does the child understand the behavioral expectations for the situation? 
  • In what settings is the problem behavior observed? 
  • Is it possible that the child is uncertain about the appropriateness of the behavior?
  • Is it within the child's power to control the behavior, or does she need support? 
  • Is the behavior problem associated with certain social or environmental conditions? 
  • Is the child attempting to avoid a demanding task?
  • Is there a more acceptable behavior that might replace this behavior? 
  • Is there evidence to suggest that the child does not know how to perform the skill – and therefore can’t? 
  • What activities or interactions take place just prior to the behavior? 
  • What current rules, routines, or expectations does the child consider irrelevant?
  • What usually happens immediately after the behavior? 
  • Who is present when the behavior occurs?

Interviews with the child may be useful in identifying how he perceived the situation and what caused him to act in the way he did. Questionnaires, motivational scales, and checklists can also be used to structure indirect assessments of behavior. For example:

1. Hypothesis statement— Drawing on information that emerges from the analysis, school staff can establish a “working hypothesis” regarding the function of the behaviors in question. This hypothesis predicts the general conditions under which the behavior is most - and least - likely to occur, as well as the likely consequences that serve to maintain it.

2. Direct assessment— Direct assessment involves observing and recording situational factors surrounding a difficult behavior (e.g., antecedent and consequent events). A member of the IEP team may observe the behavior in the setting that it is likely to occur, and record data using an Antecedent- Behavior- Consequence (ABC) approach.

3. Data analysis— Once the IEP team is satisfied that enough data have been collected, they should compare and analyze the data. This analysis will help the team to determine whether or not there are any patterns associated with the behavior. If patterns can’t be determined, the team should revise the FBA to identify other methods for assessing behavior.

After collecting data on a child's behavior, and after developing a hypothesis of the function of that behavior, the IEP team should develop the child's behavior intervention plan. It is helpful to use the data collected during the FBA to develop the plan and to determine the discrepancy between the youngster's actual and expected behavior.

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

Intervention plans emphasizing the skills that AS and HFA children need in order to behave in a more appropriate manner will be more effective than plans that simply serve to control behavior. Interventions based upon “control” often fail to generalize (i.e., fail to continue to be used for long periods of time, in many settings, and in a variety of situations). Control measures usually only serve to suppress behavior, resulting in the youngster meeting unaddressed needs in alternative, inappropriate ways.

It is good practice for IEP teams to include two evaluation procedures in an intervention plan:
  • one designed to measure changes in behavior
  • one designed to monitor the accuracy with which the plan is implemented

In addition, IEP teams must determine a timeline for implementation and reassessment, and specify the degree of behavior change consistent with the goal of the overall intervention.

To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least annually and revised as needed. However, the plan may be reviewed and re-evaluated whenever any member of the youngster's IEP team feels that a review is necessary. Circumstances that may warrant a review include the following:
  • It is clear that the original behavior intervention plan is not bringing about positive changes in the child's behavior.
  • The situation has changed, and the behavioral interventions no longer address the current needs of the child.
  • The youngster has reached his behavioral goals and objectives, and new goals and objectives need to be established.
  • The IEP team makes a change in placement.

If done correctly, the net result of an FBA is that school personnel are better able to provide an educational environment that addresses the special learning needs of the AS/HFA child.

CLICK HERE for an example of a completed Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) form…

CLICK HERE for a blank FBA and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) form…

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

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.

Click here
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