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Capitalizing on the Strengths of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Oftentimes, the focus is on the deficits of a youngster with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), which is common due to the child’s communication difficulties, learning disabilities, poor social skills, and/or tendency to experience meltdowns and tantrums.

Years of corrective measures are often spent trying to fix the child’s deficits, rather than capitalizing on his assets. For example, if he has poor handwriting skills, hours are spent teaching that youngster using methods that didn't work in the first place, which often results in behavior problems. A youngster who is acting-out is a youngster who is frustrated over failure or perceived failure.  If he can’t learn the way he is taught, he may as well be in a foreign language class.

Behavior problems can get in the way of teaching to a youngster's assets.  Discipline may reduce or eliminate problematic behavior temporarily, but does not provide stepping stones to more appropriate behavior. Usually there are triggers for behaviors that, when identified and eliminated, result in a dramatic reduction of problematic behaviors. Focusing and building on the youngster's assets usually leads to a reduction in classroom-related problems as well.

A youngster on the autism spectrum already knows that he is different. It is up to educators to teach this child that different is not bad, and that each of us has special talents. Educators can help this process along by showcasing the youngster's assets and special interests. All children have assets, but sometimes they're not obvious. Thus, educators must “hunt down” those strong points and build on them. Every youngster must feel he is making a contribution to his environment. Every youngster must feel important – and must taste success.

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

If the AS or HFA youngster does not have obvious areas of strength, educators should explore every possibility, be it in sports, solving puzzles, photography, mechanical inclinations, collecting insects, the arts – anything of interest that is creative and stimulating for the child.  When the focus is on the child’s “special interests” and areas of strength, the process of building self-confidence and self-reliance begins as well. Of course, parents need to be on board with the business of focusing on strength as well. It is crucial to have a concerted effort both at school and at home, with clear communication between the teacher and parent.

Specific methods for assisting with special needs and capitalizing on strengths:

1. The AS or HFA child should have a special job at school in an area related to her interests and needs. It can be something such as assisting with a classroom chore, feeding the fish in the fish tank, helping the teacher with passing out lesson material – anything that is a regular job. This job does not need to be time consuming. Five to ten minutes a day will work. Accommodating this need takes creativity and ingenuity, but it's crucial. 

Unfortunately, the youngster with a “disorder” that impacts social skills and behavior is often the last youngster picked to assist with different classroom tasks. But, it's one of the single most effective methods to help the AS or HFA youngster gain self-confidence, and should be included as a “need” – not a reward! All “special needs” children need to feel they are making a contribution to their environment. They feel important when they are singled out for a special responsibility, even if it is only for five minutes a day. When these young people feel recognized and valued for their contribution, problematic behaviors often diminish or disappear. They walk taller, gain self-confidence, and have a more positive outlook.

2. The AS or HFA student needs structure and routine in order to function. Thus, try to keep his world as predictable as possible. If there will be any significant change in the youngster's classroom or routine, it is advisable to notify parents as far in advance as possible so that everyone can work together in preparing the child for it.

3. Often times, the AS or HFA youngster who is easily distractible in the classroom shows significant improvement when work is accomplished on a computer. Many kids on the autism spectrum tend to lose their thoughts somewhere between brain and pencil, but are great writers when using a computer. Since these children tend to be visual thinkers/learners, there is an instant connection between brain and screen. Through bypassing faulty circuitry that gets in the way of genuine learning, problem solving and organizational skills often show remarkable improvement. The focus can then shift from the writing deficits to the content assets.

4. Kids on the autism spectrum tend to be reclusive; therefore, teachers should foster involvement with others. Encourage active socialization, and limit time spent in isolated pursuit of interests (e.g., the teacher's aide seated at the lunch table could actively encourage the youngster to participate in the conversation of his peers, not only by soliciting his opinions and asking him questions, but also by subtly reinforcing other students who do the same).

5. Always remember that the AS or HFA youngster's difficulty with social cues, nonverbal communication, figurative language and eye contact are part of her neurological makeup. She is not being deliberately rude or disrespectful.

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

6. Take the example of an AS or HFA child who is struggling with spelling, sometimes spending as much as 2 hours a night trying to learn a list of 15 to 20 words. In this case, a great modification would be to cut the list in half. Alternatively, the teacher may want to consider allowing that youngster to spend spelling time on the computer. With the use of word processors and spell checkers to offset spelling and organizational difficulties, many of these “special needs” students suddenly blossom into creative writers.

7. Remember that the AS or HFA youngster is an individual, not a diagnosis. Teachers should always be alert and receptive to the things that make her unique and special.

8. Although they lack personal understanding of the emotions of others, kids on the spectrum can learn the correct way to respond. When they have been unintentionally insulting, tactless or insensitive, it must be explained to them why the response was inappropriate – and what response would have been correct. They must learn social skills intellectually, because they lack social instinct and intuition.

9. Perhaps the youngster understands math concepts, but has difficulty performing the actual calculations on paper. A calculator is a great tool for such a youngster. Sometimes teachers insist that their students have to first learn math the "old fashioned way." However, if the child can't perform very basic math calculations by the 5th or 6th grade, it will probably always be difficult. It would be best to start early to help the AS or HFA child who has difficulty with math to progress rapidly with the concepts by using a calculator.

10. Kids on the spectrum have eccentric preoccupations, or odd, intense fixations (e.g., sometimes obsessively collecting unusual things). They tend to (a) relentlessly "lecture" on areas of interest, (b) ask repetitive questions about interests, (c) have trouble letting go of ideas, (d) follow their own inclinations regardless of external demands, and (e) sometimes refuse to learn about anything outside their limited field of interest. In these cases, teachers can use the youngster's fixation as a way to broaden her repertoire of interests. A case in point: During a unit on rain forests, one AS student who was obsessed with animals was led to not only study rain forest animals, but to also study the forest itself since this was the animals’ home. He was then motivated to learn about the local people who were forced to chop down the animals’ forest habitat in order to survive.

Children with AS and HFA are unique, and they can affect the learning environment in both positive and negative ways. In the classroom, these students can present a challenge for the most experienced teacher. They can also contribute much to the classroom, because they can be extremely creative and see things and execute various tasks in different ways. These “special needs” children may come from different family backgrounds and leave your classroom for different futures, but they spend a significant portion of their young lives with you right now. Next to the parents, you have the greatest opportunity and the power to positively influence their lives.

Struggling with your "special needs" student? Click here  for highly effective teaching strategies specific to the Asperger's and HFA condition. 

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

Teaching Impulse-Control to Children on the Autism Spectrum

"How can I teach my child to not be so impulsive, that is, acting/saying things without thinking?"

Have you ever witnessed a youngster who doesn’t seem to know how to wait his or her turn, refuses to share, grabs objects out in public even after being told not to touch, has a meltdown in the middle of a crowded store, or constantly dominates a conversation?

Impulse-control is one of the most important skills that moms and dads can teach their children, because it is exceedingly important for success later in life. By learning impulse-control, children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that can yield positive outcomes.

Parents can indeed teach impulse-control, but they need to understand that this skill is learned through a lot of discovery and repetition, not through reprimands and discipline – and this discovery and repetition happens slowly throughout childhood. Parents can’t teach self-control with a one-time lecture, rather they have to do one teachable moment, one situation at a time.  

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

Below are 16 strategies for tackling this challenge:

1. Allow “do-overs.” AS and HFA kids learn from experience far more than they learn from words. The best way to increase their learning is through repetition. After parents have completed any instructive corrections, they should give their youngster a chance to try again. This serves as a punctuation point on the lesson.

2. Demonstrate frustration-management skills. Low frustration-tolerance can be a big factor in impulse-control. Teach your “special needs” youngster how to manage her frustration so she can calm herself down when she’s upset. Time-outs are be a great way for children to learn how to calm themselves down. Your child will be less likely to act-out or seek revenge when she has a better understanding of how to manage her frustration.

3. Focusing on what your youngster did wrong is only half the equation. Parents need to tell their youngster what they want her to do instead. For example, say something such as, “You’re not permitted to hog the video game when you have your friends over. Think of three things you can do while your guests play so you’re able to share.”

4. Impart listening skills. Oftentimes, a child will behave impulsively because he doesn’t listen to the directions. Before parents have finished their sentence, the child is up and moving without really hearing what they said. Teach your youngster to listen to the directions first by having him repeat back what he has heard before he takes action.

5. Model good impulse-control yourself. If you're in an aggravating situation in front of your child, tell him why you're aggravated, and then discuss potential solutions to the problem. For example, if you've misplaced your cell phone, instead of allowing yourself to get agitated, tell your child it is missing and then search for it together. If your phone doesn't turn up, take the next practical step (e.g., retracing your steps when you last had your phone in-hand, calling your phone from a different phone, etc.). Show that good emotional control and problem solving are the ways to deal with challenging circumstances.

6. One of the hardest skills for an AS or HFA youngster who has attention deficits is to learn to wait.
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If he is unable to wait, he will usually act-out his frustration in the form of tantrums and/or meltdowns. Since children on the autism spectrum are visual learners, one of the best ways to teach “waiting” is through the use of visual learning techniques – along with something reinforcing or rewarding to the youngster. Thus, create a “wait picture” along with a picture of the reward. Tell your youngster that you and he are going to practice waiting (e.g., 5 minutes sitting quietly on the coach), and then he can have his reward (e.g., an additional 10 minutes of “computer game” time).  Praise your youngster for good behavior during this waiting time.  If he has difficulty demonstrating good behavior, try again for a shorter period until you have success (e.g., 3 minutes).  Then, in subsequent practice sessions, gradually extend the time your youngster has to wait for the reward (usually no more than 15 minutes, though).

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

Another way to help an AS or HFA youngster learn to wait is to teach her time-telling skills.  To some kids, the words "five minutes" mean nothing because they don't know how long that is.  Some kids do well with digital clocks.  There is also a cool device called a "time timer," which shows the amount of time passing as well as providing an audible sound when the time is up.

7. Play impulse-control games. Play games that provide your youngster with a fun way to practice impulse-control. Games like Follow the Leader, Red Light Green Light, and Simon Says require impulse-control (playing memory games can improve impulse-control as well).

8. Promote physical exercise. When a child is physically active, she has a better chance at managing her impulses. When she is a bundle of energy, she is more likely to act without thinking.

9. Provide structure and routine. Providing structure can help parents keep their discipline consistent. When a child knows what to expect, there is less confusion and less opportunity for impulsivity. Repeat the rules and set clear limits often.

10. Repeat yourself as often as needed when giving instructive corrections. The key to curbing impulsive behavior is to teach your youngster how to think BEFORE he acts, and that requires repetition of your lessons.

11. Talk to your child about emotions. When “special needs” children develop an understanding of the difference between emotions and behaviors, it can help them control their impulses. For example, a youngster who understands that it is alright to feel angry – but not okay to push someone – can see that she has choices about how to deal with her feelings without reacting impulsively.

12. Teach problem-solving skills. When an AS or HFA youngster learns problem-solving skills, he will learn how to think before he acts. Thus, teach your youngster how to develop several solutions to a problem, and then analyze which one is likely to have the best outcome. For example, instead of instinctively pushing a classmate who cuts in front of him in line, he can problem-solve several different ideas of how to respond.

13. Teaching “cooperative games” (i.e., where players work together toward a common goal) also teaches impulse-control (e.g., doing puzzles together while taking turns adding pieces). Parents can share tasks as well (e.g., watering the plants together, unpacking the shopping bags, etc.). In addition, parents can give their child things to share with her friends on occasion (e.g., a special snack, a roll of stickers, etc.). To encourage sharing, use positive reinforcement rather than punishment. But, remember that it's reasonable for your youngster to hold back certain items; she shouldn’t have to share everything. As she matures, she will learn that sharing with her playmates (who are becoming increasingly important to her) is more satisfying than keeping things to herself.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

14. Teaching an AS or HFA youngster how to play independently will also help her to develop impulse-control.  There are many times when parents can’t provide one-on-one attention to their youngster (e.g., when preparing meals, doing chores, talking on the phone, etc.).  It is usually during these times that behavior problems are witnessed, because the youngster is having difficulty waiting for undivided attention.  Thus, create an “activity menu” to help your youngster during these times. Take some pictures of activities that she has been seen to do independently.  Have a selection of these pictures for her to choose from during those times when you need her to play without your assistance.  Make sure that all the materials for the activities are easily available.  Set a timer for how long you want your child to engage in the activity – and every few minutes (5 - 10), praise her for playing independently.

15. To an AS or HFA child, impulses can feel like they have overtaken her, bypassing any logical thinking, causing her to disregard what she knows she should do. In order to help the youngster learn about impulse-control, parents need to break down that process for the child, helping her to become aware of her impulses before they lead her to a bad choice. Look for – and make note of – your child’s “impulsivity-triggers” (i.e., things that immediately precede her impulsive behaviors), and share your observations with her.

16. When giving instructive corrections, don’t preach. AS and HFA kids need time to process and integrate information. When parents lecture, their youngster becomes overwhelmed with too much information and melts down – or shuts down – and stops listening. Instead, be brief, using short statements and instructive action. 

Many behavior problems center around children struggling to manage their impulses. Aggression, parent-child conflict, disrespect, and oppositional behavior can often be decreased by teaching impulse-control techniques.  AS and HFA kids are not always able to express themselves calmly and in words. Frustration with people, things or circumstances occurs frequently – especially before they have the vocabulary to talk things out. But, there are many ways to teach your youngster how to express thoughts and feelings in a more constructive way. The techniques you choose will depend on his or her age and developmental readiness.

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

50 Positive Traits of High-Functioning Autism

People with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome do have some challenges -- for sure! But their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses. Watch this video!

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