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Part 9: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Poor Concentration

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA):
  • are easily distracted by internal stimuli
  • are often off task
  • are very disorganized
  • have difficulty figuring out what is relevant, so attention is focused on irrelevant stimuli
  • have difficulty learning in a group situation
  • have difficulty sustaining focus on classroom activities (often it is not that the attention is poor but, rather, that the focus is "odd")
  • tend to withdraw into complex inner worlds in a manner much more intense than is typical of daydreaming

Programming Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Work out a nonverbal signal with the AS or HFA youngster (e.g., a gentle pat on the shoulder) for times when he is not paying attention.

2. Actively encourage the youngster to leave her inner thoughts and fantasies behind and refocus on the real world. This is a constant battle, as the comfort of that inner world is much more attractive than anything in real life. For these “special needs” kids, even free play needs to be structured, because they can become so immersed in solitary, ritualized fantasy play that they lose touch with reality.

3. Seat the youngster at the front of the class and direct frequent questions to him to help him attend to the lesson.

4. AS and HFA kids with severe concentration problems benefit from timed work sessions. This helps them organize themselves. Classwork that is not completed within the time limit (or that is done carelessly) must be made up during the youngster's own time (i.e., during recess or during the time used for pursuit of special interests).

5. Young people on the autism spectrum can sometimes be stubborn. Therefore, they need firm expectations and a structured program that teaches them that compliance with rules leads to positive reinforcement. Such programs motivate the youngster to be productive, thus enhancing self-esteem and lowering stress levels, because the youngster sees herself as competent.

6. In the case of mainstreamed AS and HFA students, poor concentration, slow clerical speed, and severe disorganization may make it necessary to lessen the homework load, classwork load, and provide time in a resource room where a special education teacher can offer the additional structure the youngster needs to complete classwork and homework. Some kids with AS and HFA are so unable to concentrate that it places undue stress on moms and dads to expect that they spend hours each night trying to get through homework with their youngster.

7. If a buddy system is used, sit the AS or HFA youngster's buddy next to him so the buddy can remind the youngster to return to task or listen to the lesson.

8. Encouraging the youngster with AS and HFA to play a board game with one or two others under close supervision not only structures play, but offers an opportunity to practice social skills.

9. A tremendous amount of regimented external structure must be provided if the youngster with AS and HFA is to be productive in the classroom. Assignments should be broken down into small units, and frequent teacher feedback and redirection should be offered.

Teaching Self-reflection Skills to Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum

"How can I help my child with autism (high functioning) to make better decisions?"

The ability to weigh options and make decisions are skills that all children need to possess. If we look closely to what those skills are and the building blocks that are needed for them, one crucial factor is present: the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection is a necessary component to focus, decision-making, prioritization and action.

For example: What might be the best career for me? Why should I get into a relationship with this person? What can I do to make myself happy? At the heart of all these questions is the ability to introspect and find the answers.

In conventional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) programs, clients are encouraged to self-reflect to improve insight into their thoughts and feelings, promoting a realistic and positive self-image and enhancing the ability to self-talk for greater self-control. However, the concept of self-consciousness is different for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). There is often a qualitative impairment in the ability to engage in introspection (i.e., self-analysis).

Research evidence, autobiographies, and clinical experience have confirmed that many young people with AS and HFA lack an “inner voice” and think in pictures rather than words. They also have difficulty translating their visual thoughts into words. As one teenager with AS explained in relation to how visualization improves his learning (a picture is worth a thousand words), “I have the picture in my mind, but not the thousand words to describe it.” Some of these “special needs” children have an “inner voice” but have difficulty disengaging mind and mouth, thereby vocalizing their thoughts to the confusion or annoyance of others.

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

When parents attempt to teach self-reflection skills to their AS or HFA child, certain modifications need to be in place (e.g., a greater use of visual material and resources using drawings, role-play, and metaphor, and less reliance on spoken responses). Many young people on the autism spectrum have a greater ability to develop and explain their thoughts and emotions using other expressive media (e.g., typed communication in the form of e-mail or a diary, music, art, or a pictorial dictionary of feelings).

When talking about themselves, older teens and young adults with AS and HFA do not anchor their self-attributes in social activities and relationships, or use as wide a range of emotions in their descriptions like their “typical” peers do. They are less likely to describe themselves in the context of their relationships and interactions with other people. Thus, the teaching of self-reflection skills may have to be modified to accommodate a concept of self primarily in terms of physical, intellectual, and psychological attributes.

In self-reflection skills training, parents should attempt to adjust their child’s self-image to be an accurate reflection of his abilities and the neurological origins of his disorder. A bit of time needs to be allocated to explaining the nature of AS and HFA and how the characteristics account for his differences. As soon as the youngster has the diagnosis of AS or HFA, the parent needs to carefully and authoritatively explain the nature of the disorder to the family, but the affected youngster also must receive a personal explanation. This is to reduce the likelihood of inappropriate coping strategies to the child’s recognition of being different and concern as to why he has to see psychologists and psychiatrists.

The AS or HFA child also may be concerned as to why she has to take medication and receive “special education” at school. Over the last few years, there have been several publications developed specifically to introduce the youngster or teenager to their diagnosis. The choice of which book to use is the parent’s decision, but it is important that the explanations are accurate and positive. The child will perceive the diagnosis as it is presented.

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

If the approach is pessimistic, the reaction can be to trigger a depression or to reject the diagnosis and treatment. The parent also can recommend the child read some of the autobiographies written by other kids and teens on the autism spectrum. The subsequent discussion is whether and how to tell other people of the diagnosis, especially extended family, neighbors, and friends.

When an accurate perception of self has been achieved, it is possible to explore cognitive mechanisms to accommodate the AS or HFA child’s unusual profile of abilities and vulnerabilities, and to consider the directions for change in self-image. One approach is using the metaphor of a road map with alternative directions and destinations.

Kids and teens on the autism spectrum need the tools to help them hone their self-reflection skills. Here are some examples of prompts that parents can use to start engaging their youngster in reflecting about his or her thinking (brainstorm some additional ones, too):
  • During what activities do you become unaware of time passing?
  • How did you feel?
  • How do other people see you?
  • How do you most want to contribute to others?
  • If you were brave, what would you do?
  • Tell me something that made you happy today (use the other emotion words like frustrated, sad, angry).
  • What activities are you good at?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you thinking right now?
  • What are your best gifts?
  • What are your dreams?
  • What are your goals?
  • What could this person be feeling?
  • What could this person be thinking?
  • What do you do right?
  • What do you fear?
  • What do you hesitate to admit about yourself?
  • What do you like to play with?
  • What do you love to do?
  • What do you most want to create?
  • What do you most want to give?
  • What do you value?
  • What do you want for your life?
  • What has gone well?
  • What has not gone well?
  • What have you always wanted to try?
  • What have you most enjoyed doing in your life?
  • What is challenging for you?
  • What is the next step?
  • What is your best contribution?
  • What made you excited today?
  • What motivates you?
  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • What takes energy away from you?
  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the least that you liked about your day?
  • When do you feel the most “natural”?
  • When is it time to take a break?
  • Where are you dissatisfied in your life?
  • Where are you meeting resistance right now?
  • Where do you get energy from?
  • Why do you like it? (best followed by “what makes you say that?”)

As much as these prompts are for the AS or HFA child, they are for parents, too. Parents should find the time to share their thoughts with their youngster and the entire family during family meetings (use some of the self-reflecting questions above as part of the meeting’s agenda).

Parents need to let everyone know what they are thinking and feeling and make it visible. In this way, the AS or HFA youngster realizes that the self-talk that goes on in her head is normal – and sharing it with her family is important. It also gives family members the opportunity to talk about not just what makes them happy, but more importantly, the deep, dark and ugly thoughts that keep them awake at night and in a state of anxiety. Self-reflection is not just about building self-esteem, it is also being able to share negative thoughts. Thus, parents will do well to give their youngster the chance to reflect on his fears – and face them.

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

Part 8: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Restricted Range of Interests

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have eccentric preoccupations or odd, intense fixations (e.g., obsessively collecting unusual things). They tend to: ask repetitive questions about interests; follow own inclinations regardless of external demands; have trouble letting go of ideas; relentlessly "lecture" on areas of interest; and, sometimes refuse to learn about anything outside their limited field of interest.

Programming Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Use the AS or HFA youngster's fixation as a way to broaden his repertoire of interests. For example, during a lesson on rain forests, the student who is obsessed with animals can be led to not only study rain forest animals, but to also study the forest itself since this is the animals' home. The student can then be motivated to learn about the local people who are forced to chop down the animals' forest habitat in order to survive.

2. Use of positive reinforcement selectively directed to shape a desired behavior is a crucial strategy for helping the youngster with AS or HFA. These “special needs” kids respond well to compliments (e.g., in the case of a relentless question-asker, the teacher can consistently praise the child as soon as she pauses – and congratulate her for allowing others to speak). These kids should also be praised for simple, expected social behavior that is taken for granted in “typical” kids.

3. Some kids with AS and HFA will not want to do assignments outside their area of interest. Firm expectations must be set for completion of classwork. It must be made very clear to the youngster that he is not in control – and that he must follow specific rules. At the same time, though, meet the child halfway by giving him opportunities to pursue his own interests.

4. AS and HFA students can be given assignments that link their special interest to the subject being studied. For example, during a social studies lesson about a specific country, a youngster obsessed with trains can be assigned to research the modes of transportation used by people in that country.

5. For particularly unruly kids on the autism spectrum, it may be necessary to initially individualize all assignments around their interest area (e.g., if the interest is dinosaurs, then offer grammar sentences, math word problems, and reading and spelling tasks about dinosaurs). Then, gradually introduce other topics into assignments.

6. Do not allow the AS or HFA youngster to incessantly discuss – or ask questions about – isolated interests. Limit this behavior by designating a specific time during the day when she can talk about this. For example, a youngster who is fixated on animals and has countless questions about the class pet turtle should be advised that she is allowed to ask these questions only during recesses. This can be part of her daily routine, and she may quickly learn to stop herself when she begins asking these kinds of questions at other times of the day.

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."

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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...