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Part 12: Teaching Strategies for Students with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism – Emotional Vulnerability

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have the intelligence to participate in regular education, but they often do not have the emotional resources to cope with the demands of the classroom. These “special needs” kids are easily stressed due to their inflexibility. Self-esteem is low, and they are often very self-critical and unable to tolerate making mistakes.

Young people with AS and HFA, especially teenagers, may be prone to depression (as a side note, a high percentage of depression in grown-ups with AS and HFA has been documented). Rage and temper outbursts are common in response to stress and frustration.

Kids with AS and HFA rarely seem relaxed and are easily overwhelmed when things are not as their rigid views dictate they should be. Interacting with peers and school staff – and coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life take constant strenuous effort.

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

Programming Suggestions for Teachers:

1. Teachers must be alert to changes in behavior that may indicate depression (e.g., greater levels of disorganization, inattentiveness, isolation, decreased stress threshold, chronic fatigue, crying, suicidal remarks, etc.). Do not accept the youngster's assessment in these cases that he is "OK."

2. Teach the AS or HFA student how to cope when stress overwhelms her in order to prevent outbursts. Help the youngster write a list of very concrete steps that can be followed when she becomes upset (e.g., breathe deeply three times; count the fingers on your right hand slowly three times; ask to see the special education teacher, etc.). Include a ritualized behavior that the youngster finds comforting on the list. Write these steps on a card that is placed in the pocket so that they are always readily available.

3. Report symptoms to the youngster's therapist or make a mental health referral so that the youngster can be evaluated for depression and receive treatment if this is needed. Because AS and HFA kids are often unable to assess their own emotions and can’t seek comfort from others, it is critical that depression be diagnosed quickly.

4. Kids with AS and HFA are so easily overwhelmed by environmental stressors and have such profound impairment in the ability to form interpersonal relationships that it is no wonder they give the impression of fragile vulnerability and immaturity. When these “special needs” youngsters are compared to their “typical” peers, it becomes very evident just how different they are and the enormous effort they have to make to live in a world where no concessions are made and where they are expected to conform.

5. Prevent outbursts by offering a high level of consistency. Prepare these kids for changes in daily routine in order to lower stress. Kids on the autism spectrum frequently become fearful, angry, and upset in the face of forced or unexpected changes.

6. AS and HFA kids who are very fragile emotionally may need placement in a highly structured special education classroom that can offer an individualized academic program. These kids require a learning environment in which they see themselves as competent and productive. Accordingly, keeping them in the mainstream where they can’t grasp concepts or complete assignments serves only to lower their self-concept, increase their withdrawal, and set the stage for depression. In some situations, a personal aide can be assigned to the youngster rather than special education placement. The aide offers emotional support, structure and consistent feedback.

7. Kids with AS and HFA must receive academic assistance as soon as difficulties in a particular area are noted. These kids are quickly overwhelmed and react much more severely to failure than do other kids.

8. It is critical that teenagers with AS and HFA who are mainstreamed have an identified support staff member with whom they can check-in at least once daily. This person can assess how well the student is coping by meeting with him daily and gathering observations from other teachers.

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

9. Be aware that teenagers with AS and HFA are especially prone to depression. Social skills are highly valued in the teenage years, and the AS or HFA student realizes she is different and has difficulty forming normal relationships. Academic work often becomes more abstract, and the teen finds assignments more difficult and complex. In one case, teachers noted that an AS teen was no longer crying over math assignments, and therefore believed that she was coping much better. In reality, her subsequent decreased organization and productivity in math was believed to be a function of her escaping further into her inner world to avoid the math, and thus she was not coping well at all.

10. Affect as reflected in the teacher's voice should be kept to a minimum. Be calm, predictable, and matter-of-fact in interactions with the AS or HFA youngster while clearly indicating compassion and patience. The teacher who does not understand that it is necessary to teach AS and HFA kids seemingly obvious things will feel impatient and irritated. Do not expect the “special needs” youngster to acknowledge that he is sad or depressed. In the same way that they can’t perceive the emotions of others, these kids can also be unaware of their own emotions. They often cover up their depression and deny its symptoms.

Teachers can play a vital role in helping kids with AS and HFA learn to negotiate the world around them. Because these kids are frequently unable to express their fears and anxieties, it is up to caring adults to make it worthwhile for them to leave their safe inner fantasy lives for the uncertainties of the external world.

Staff who work with these youngsters in schools must provide the external structure, organization, and stability that they lack. Using creative teaching strategies is crucial, not only to facilitate academic success, but also to help these young people feel less alienated from other human beings and less overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of everyday life.

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA


•    Anonymous said…  you are not alone!"Just keep swimming..."
•    Anonymous said… Absolutely spot on in relation to my 10 year old son.. & worthwhile sharing with his school!
•    Anonymous said… Absolutely spot on. How I've described my son and why I moved him to a school which actively seeks to get the best from him every day, without the mainstream inadequacies. He has gone from strength to strength.
•    Anonymous said… 16 year old is dealing with a chaotic class right now. He has not failed a class ever but is on the verge. He is begging to be switched out, so we are pushing the admin to allow him to move.
•    Anonymous said… Every time I read " depression" next to "mainstream", I hardly believe that school officials would be accommodating or patient enough to deal with emotional HFA child. I suspect they'll just drop it on the clinical psychologist laps to avoid liabilities.
•    Anonymous said… I just started homeschooling my 11 year old girl. I don't know what took me so long! Five years of banging my head against the wall of the public school system. What was I waiting for??
•    Anonymous said… I'm thinking about pulling my 10 year old 4th grader from Public School!!! Same as you both, I'm mad at myself for letting him suffer this long.
•    Anonymous said… It's a fear thing. If I didn't have the K12 program I don't think I would have the guts to do it yet.
•    Anonymous said… Mine is in her thirties. I had to fight with the school almost constantly (and college was no picnic neither). She lacks one class from having an Associate's Degree. She lacks a science class because we just could not find a science class instructor who really cared to do any modification at all. She did have a "special populations" counselor at the college and that did help to an extent (but not when it came to the science dept ... ironic how ignorant they are). The modification would have been minor (although it is not a minor issue when not put into place) and she is, of course, expected to complete the workload and pass the exams just like everyone else. I am almost sixty. My husband just retired and I am totally burnt out. At least she does have three technology degrees from the college (and she definitely EARNED them). However, she is a grocery store clerk and has not found a job in her chosen field ... kind of doubtful (although hopeful) that she someday will. I feel like I fought with the school district the entire time she was growing up. They did not seem to understand what autism is at the time she attended school .... much less that there are different levels of autism. They tried to label her MR, but I resisted. They said that they did not have a program for autism. I told them that they were ACQUIRING one! She was mainstreamed, because I insisted. Sure, there were bullies .... both children AND adults. However, there were some of the most wonderful people .... both children AND adults .... who came to her aid at times. And, yes, I did have to go to the school and make the school officials confront the bullies. I had to actually threaten the school district with a law suit one time because the prinipical did not want to contront the bullies who were htting my child by the lockers. The principal stated that she could not punish the bullies as she did not witness the abuse. I countered that comment with the fact that she could "call them on the carpet and put them on notice" and tell them and their parents what she had heard about their behavior. Fortunately, this was resolved ..... however, it was totally inappropriate on the school's part that I had to take such measures to protect my child. I realize that I have rambled on, but this is a small slice of our experience. It seems that it is an uphill battle, but, although burnt out, I am glad that I fought. It still is not ideal. She lives with us and the government does not give her any type of check (as some people probably think). Her father and I have always been working class people. Lol ... the government relies on people like us to support welfare with the taxes they take from our paychecks. Our daughter takes care of very basic things with her part-time job money. She cannot afford to pay rent, so she lives with us. (Not many people are catagoried as "full-time" in the grocery store). She did qualify for "Obama-Care" so at least she has some type of coverage. We live in Texas (that probably explains part of it anyway).
•    Anonymous said… So incredibly timely for me as my 13 yo ASD son is struggling with school. I will be sharing this with this school. They have been wonderful in working with him.
•    Anonymous said… So very true. My son calls high school - social hell.
•    Anonymous said… Thank you for posting. I am going to pass this on to my daughters principal.
•    Anonymous said… That describes my child so well!
•    Anonymous said… That's why I homeschool my oldest for right now. When I have tried communicating his needs before we started school they seemed like they didn't want to help at all.
•    Anonymous said… The school structure just didn't fit him- so much stress from transitions, unexpected changes, assemblies, substitutes and rule changes. He would fall behind and only two teachers tried to do anything. He is homeschooling this year and is doing fantastic and also making friends!
•    Anonymous said… This is so spot on! Hand this to all of your Aspie's teachers!
•    Anonymous said… this is what I was talking to u about...
•    Anonymous said… Very helpful!
•    Anonymous said… We pulled our son from the public system in the 5th grade and enrolled him in a mainstream, small private school where he does much better socially...but it still isn't perfect. He does not require a special needs school, but he does require specialized care at times. I really wish there were more options out there for these high functioning, quirky kids.
•    Anonymous said… Yay! The BEST description of my son!
*  Anonymous said... This was my son to a T, and despite lawyers, advocates, etc. we never got him the support he really needed in school. Barriers included many teachers' unwillingness or inability to believe that this very bright, verbal, gifted and often funny kid was so significantly affected by this hidden disability; my son's unwillingness to have supports/accommodations that singled him out as "different;" and the fact that by the time he got diagnosed he already had full-blown depression as well as (I believe) PTSD from all the stress of the first 7 years of his schooling, and from being blamed for all his own problems by almost everyone. I really hope this information is passed along and helps others.....If you suspect your child may have special needs, do not put off going to a specialist!! Our pediatrician was treating him for ADHD all those years and even when he was getting in trouble in school no one suggested further testing until I got him to the right therapist. 

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Teaching Nonverbal Communication Skills to Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"How can parents teach nonverbal communication and body language to a child who can read neither?"

Most children communicate naturally and instinctively. However, communication is a highly complex process that requires the spontaneous organization of several different functions. For example:
  • Emotional controls: to be comfortable socially requires that a child learns how to control his emotions and use them in a way appropriate to the circumstance
  • Listening skills: for a child to understand what she is hearing requires that what she hears is automatically turned into understood thoughts
  • Reading body language: reading body language accurately requires that the child learns the meaning of non-verbal cues (e.g. smiling, frowning, etc.)
  • Verbal communication: to speak naturally requires that the cerebellum has hard wired the process of turning thoughts into speech

With Asperger's (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), one or more of these skills are not fully developed, so children on the autism spectrum ‘overload’ their working memory and don’t take into account all of the various information required for natural social interaction.

Good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship – and nonverbal communication speaks the loudest (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, tone of voice, etc.). The ability to understand and use nonverbal communication is a powerful tool that can help children connect with others, express what they really mean, and build better relationships.

Since nonverbal communication does not come naturally to AS and HFA children, it must be taught. Below is some vital information that parents (and teachers) can share with their “special needs” child to help him or her begin to develop the ability to read nonverbal cues. Change the wording as needed so your child will understand. And don’t be surprised if, at times, you child feels as though you are speaking a foreign language, because nonverbal communication is indeed foreign to AS and HFA kids. Pick one point at a time to discuss (perhaps one point a day over the course of 12 days), and try to give examples of each point that your child can relate to directly.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Point #1: Discuss body movements and posture. Consider how our perceptions of people are affected by the way they hold their head, sit, walk, or stand up. The way we move and carry ourselves communicates a wealth of information to others. This type of nonverbal communication includes stance, posture, bearing, and subtle movements.

Point #2: Discuss eye contact. Since the visual sense is dominant for many people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication. The way we look at someone can communicate many things (e.g., attraction, interest, affection, hostility, etc.). Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation and for evaluating the other person’s response.

Point #3: Discuss facial expressions. The human face is extremely expressive and able to convey numerous emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust are the same across cultures.

Point #4: Discuss gestures. Gestures include waving, pointing, using your hands when you are arguing or speaking animatedly. We often use gestures without thinking about it.

Point #5: Discuss space. Has anyone ever told you that they felt uncomfortable during a conversation because you were standing too close and invading their space? Everyone has a need for physical space, although that need differs depending on the person, the situation, and the closeness of the relationship. We can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages (e.g., signals of affection, aggression, submissiveness, dominance, etc.).

Point #6: Discuss touch. You communicate a great deal through touch. Think about the nonverbal messages given by the following acts: a controlling grip on your arm, a patronizing pat on the head, a reassuring pat on the back, a timid tap on the shoulder, a warm bear hug, or a weak handshake.

Point #7: Discuss voice. It’s not just what we say, it’s “how” we say it. When you speak, the other person “reads” your voice in addition to listening to your words. Things the other person may pay attention to include how loud you speak, sounds that convey understanding (e.g., ahh” and “uh-huh”), your timing and pace, and your tone and inflection. Think about how someone's tone of voice can indicate anger, sarcasm, affection, or confidence.

Point #8: Oftentimes, what comes out of your mouth and what you communicate through your body language are two totally different things. When faced with these mixed signals, the person that is listening to you has to choose whether to believe your verbal or nonverbal message. And in most cases, the other person is going to choose the nonverbal, because it's a natural, unconscious language that broadcasts your true feelings and intentions in any given moment.

Point #9: Pay attention to contradictions. Nonverbal communication should support what is being said. Is your friend saying one thing, but his body language saying something else (e.g., is he telling you “yes” while shaking his head no)? Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. If you get the sense that someone isn’t being honest, you may be picking up on a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues.

Point #10: The way we listen, move, look, and react tells the other person whether or not we care, if we are being truthful, and how well we are listening. When our nonverbal signals match up with the words we are saying, it increases trust and rapport. When our nonverbal signals don’t match up, it generates mistrust and confusion.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Point #11: When you interact with your friends and classmates, you continuously give and receive wordless signals. All of your nonverbal behaviors send strong messages (e.g., how close you stand to someone, how fast or how loud you talk, how much eye contact you make, the gestures you make, the way you sit, etc.). These messages don't stop when we stop speaking either. Even when we are silent, we are still communicating nonverbally.

Point #12: Lastly, along with your child, watch and discuss the video below on “reading facial cues”:

As your AS or HFA child continues to pay attention to the nonverbal cues he sends and receives, his ability to communicate will improve. By using the points listed above, parents can help their child gain the skills needed to communicate nonverbally, which is often the most important component of communication.

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

The DON'Ts After the Diagnosis of Asperger's

For some moms and dads, a diagnosis of Asperger's may feel like a kick to the groin. You feel overwhelmed, and your world has been turned upside down. 

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.

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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