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Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum Using Visual Imagery

"What would be the most important teaching strategy to use with my students who are on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum?" 

The short answer is: capitalize on the child's natural visual-thinking skills...

Children with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often think differently than other children. They often have what is known as 'visual thinking'. While many of us think in words or abstractly, kids on the autism spectrum think in pictures and films playing in their head.

They have a difficult time seeing a generic representation of, say, a cat, and instead recall exact images of cats they have seen. Some researchers believe that the way AS and HFA people think is a good way of compensating for losses in 'language thinking'. This is what often makes these kids good at building things and seeing the end product of something before it is done.

Using this visual thinking to an advantage can help parents and teachers educate Aspergers students better. Teaching them through videos, pictures and other visual aids can help them learn while getting around the areas they have trouble with.

One AS student stated, “I think totally in pictures. It is like playing different DVDs in a DVD player in my imagination.” Many AS and HFA children and teens can manipulate the pictures in their imagination, which helps them to learn different things. To access spoken information, they can be taught to replay a “video image” of the person talking to them. In some cases, this represents a slower way of thinking, but it generally gets the job done.

Visual thinking often puts people with AS and HFA in jobs that involve architecture or design. Not only is their visual learning superior, but their learning memory is more intact than other ways of remembering things.

Many individuals on the spectrum can create elaborate visual images of things as complex as computer programs and musical pieces, and then can fill in the rest of their knowledge around that. The thinking is often non-sequential so that pieces of knowledge are filled in like jigsaw puzzle pieces in no particular order.

When parents and teachers catch on to this method of thinking, it becomes easier to see the strengths the "special needs" student has -- and it becomes easier to find ways of using the visual imagery to teach concepts.



 

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

Helping Teens on the Autism Spectrum to Cope with the Loss of Normalcy

“I have a 16 y.o. teen with high functioning autism who seems to be down in the dumps a lot lately. He has stated he knows he is ‘different’ than his friends and classmates, and may be feeling a sense of shame about that (IDK?). How can I help him to not feel so alienated from his peer group?”

Regardless of the individual developmental route, most young people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their adolescence. Around that age, they have a higher level of interest in others, but don’t have the skills to connect in socially-accepted ways. Also, they’re at the age where they have a higher level of insight into their difficulties with social interaction.

Signs that your HFA or AS teen is feeling depressed about his dilemma include:
  • Withdrawing himself from the rest of the family
  • Refusing to participate in group activities
  • Putting himself down (e.g., saying he is ‘stupid’)
  • Not being able to fall asleep
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Making remarks such as he hates life, he hates you, nobody loves him, or wishing he was dead
  • Losing interest in activities he usually enjoys
  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Complaining that he is tired all the time and wanting to take naps during the day
  • Blaming himself unfairly for anything that goes wrong
  • Becoming irritable and angry with the drop of a hat so that parents start walking on egg shells
  • Appearing sad for most of the time

Once the HFA or AS teenager realizes that he has significant difficulties effectively engaging in social relationships as compared to his peers, he needs deal with this loss, just like dealing with any other loss. Understanding the thoughts, feelings and behavior of your son is the necessary first step in helping him and being there for him. Considering this coping process in a few stages may make your job easier:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Depression
  4. Acceptance
  5. Adaptation

Most commonly, the teen will not go through these stages one after another, but rather display a larger or smaller aspect of each at any given time. This is a painful process for not only the teen, but for parents as well. Moms and dads may find themselves compelled to forget the whole thing and act as if nothing is happening (we are all tempted to avoid pain – and denial is an excellent pain-killer).

The good news is, as much as the denial is contagious, seeing his parents dealing with the pain calmly and matter-of-factly will encourage the teen to talk about his anger and frustration. This will in turn help him get closer to acceptance and adaptation.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

How parents can help:
  • You don’t have to bring up the fact that your teen feels alienated from the peer group, but when he does, give him a good listening ear and be patient.
  • When your teen starts to bemoan his circumstances, don’t try to change the subject (unless he does so).
  • Sometimes you have to be very political trying to sell an idea to any teenager. The mere fact that the idea is coming from you, his parent, may make him refuse it. Let the idea come from a family friend, teacher, or a neighbor he trusts. Give him time to think about it. He may come back to the suggestion when he feels he is ready.
  • Offer the option of counseling, because sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger; however, try not to push the idea directly, even if you feel that your teenager clearly needs professional help.
  • Most teenagers with HFA and AS excel in one or two subjects. They tend to accumulate a lot of information on the subject and love to talk about it over and over. Unfortunately, family members eventually end up losing interest and start getting bored with the same topic over and over again. Rather than avoiding the subject, try finding out new ways to engage your teen in the subject. Structure the topic in a different way. Find a way to challenge him. Be creative and let sky be the limit! Your interest will make him feel better about himself, and realizing his mastery on the subject will boost his self-esteem.
  • Help your HFA or AS teen to resolve his sense of loss by turning the issue upside down. In other words, rather than clinging to depression and despair, help him to find his identity in his disorder. Help him get in touch with other young people on the spectrum. Encourage him to educate his peers about the disorder at school. Your “special needs” teenager could also set up a web site, chat room, and even write a book about it. Encouraging your teen to focus on the strengths associated with the disorder, and providing him means to this end and removing the obstacles in front of him may turn out to be the best anti-depressant treatment ever. 
  • Don’t try to minimize his difficulties – but also don’t let him exaggerate, providing gentle “reality testing.”



All of this may seem remote and you may not know where to start. Consider the following tips:
  • Leave brochures, leaflets and other information about teen groups around to catch the attention of your teenager.
  • Invite your friends and acquaintances to your house and encourage them to bring their adolescents (e.g., for a pizza party and movie).
  • Get in touch with the organizations like the Autism Society of America or Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the U.S. and contact their local chapters.
  • Attend support groups for parents and make acquaintances.
  • If your attempts to reconcile this issue of alienation don’t work right away, don’t get discouraged and keep trying, always letting your teen make the first move in showing an interest in processing and resolving his challenges.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Crucial Strategies for Social-Skills Training: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

For most children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS), the most important parenting strategy involves the need to enhance communication and social know-how. This emphasis is not an attempt to stifle individuality and uniqueness - and does not reflect a societal pressure for conformity. Instead, it reflects the fact that most children on the autism spectrum are not “loners” by choice.

As these “special needs” children become teenagers, they often experience a sense of hopelessness, negativism, anxiety, or depression due to their increasing awareness of personal inadequacy in social situations - and repeated experiences of failure to make and/or maintain relationships. The typical limitations of insight associated with the disorder often prevent the child from engaging in spontaneous self-adjustment to social and interpersonal demands.

The practice of social skills does not mean that the HFA or AS child will eventually acquire social spontaneity and naturalness (i.e., social skills are not intuitive to children on the autism spectrum as compared to “typical” kids). However, it does better prepare the child to cope with social and interpersonal expectations, thus enhancing his or her attractiveness as a conversational partner or as a potential friend.

Here are a few suggestions intended to foster relevant skills in this important area:

1.  Explicit verbal instructions on how to interpret other’s social behavior should be taught and exercised in a rote fashion, not unlike the teaching of a foreign language (i.e., all elements should be made verbally explicit and repeatedly drilled). For example, parents (and teachers) can teach the meaning of various inflections as well as tone of voice, non-literal communications (e.g., humor, figurative language, irony, sarcasm and metaphor), gaze, facial and hand gestures, eye contact, etc. The same principles should guide the training of the child’s expressive skills. Concrete situations can be practiced at home, and gradually tried out in naturally occurring situations.

2.  The effort to develop the child’s skills with peers in terms of managing social situations should be a priority. For example, ending topics appropriately, feeling comfortable with a range of topics that are typically discussed by same-age peers, shifting topics, the ability to expand and elaborate on a range of different topics initiated by others, topic management, etc.

3.  Encounters with unfamiliar people (e.g., making acquaintances) should be practiced until the child is made aware of the impact of his or her behavior on other people’s reactions to him/her. Strategies in the program could be: practicing in front of a mirror, listening to the recorded speech, watching a video recording of behavior, etc.

4.  The child with HFA or AS should learn to recognize and use a range of different means to disagree, discuss, interact, mediate, negotiate, and persuade through verbal means. Also, it is important to help the child to develop the ability to anticipate multiple outcomes, to explain motivation, to make inferences, and to predict in order to increase the flexibility with which he or she thinks about - and uses - language with others.

5.  The child on the autism spectrum should be taught to monitor his or her own speech style in terms of: adjusting depending on proximity to the speaker, context and the social situation, naturalness, number of people, background noise, rhythm, and volume.

Other crucial skills that parents and teachers can teach include:
  • reading the body language of others
  • learning to cope with mistakes
  • learning peer group problem-solving
  • becoming aware of their emotions
  • maintaining eye contact
  • maintaining appropriate personal space
  • understanding gestures and facial expressions
  • resolving conflict
  • taking turns
  • learning how to begin and end conversations
  • determining appropriate topics for conversation
  • interacting with authority figures
  • identifying one's feelings
  • recognizing the feelings of others
  • demonstrating empathy
  • decoding body language and facial expressions
  • determining whether someone is trustworthy
  • making choices
  • self-monitoring
  • understanding community norms

Social interactions are very complex, and the list presented above is not exhaustive in terms of the skills that HFA and AS children may need to successfully navigate social situations. Furthermore, each child’s “social-skill profile” is different. Some of these young people may have strong foundation skills but lack appropriate interaction skills, while others may require assistance in developing more basic skills (e.g., starting a conversation).

Traits of ASD that May Influence Criminal Behavior

“I'm currently studying law and was wanting to know what some of the characteristic features are that predispose to criminal offending for teens with [high-functioning] autism?”

First of all, let me be clear that there is little to no evidence that teens on the autism spectrum engage in criminal behavior any more than the general population of similar age. Second, the following characteristics may apply to some “typical” teenagers, not just those with ASD:

1.   Social naivety and the misinterpretation of relationships can leave the autistic teen open to exploitation as a stooge. His or her limited emotional knowledge can lead to a childish approach to adult situations and relationships, resulting in social blunders (e.g., in the mistaking of social attraction or friendship for love).

2.   Overriding obsessions can lead to offenses (e.g., stalking, compulsive theft). Harshly reprimanding the teen can increase anxiety - and consequently a reflective thinking of the unthinkable that increases the likelihood of repeating the offense.

3.   Misinterpreting rules, particularly social ones, teens on the spectrum may find themselves unwittingly embroiled in offenses (e.g., date rape).

4.   Lacking motivation to change, these young people may remain stuck in a risky pattern of behavior.

5.   For those teens who have been traumatized by teasing, rejection, and bullying from their peer group, “revenge-seeking behavior” may become their method of establishing equality (i.e., to even the score).

6.   The teen’s tendency to misjudge relationships and consequences can result in a risky openness (i.e., dangerous self-disclosure) and the revealing of private fantasies which, although no more shocking than any teen’s, are best not revealed.

7.   Impulsivity, sometimes violent, can be a component of comorbid ADHD or of anxiety turning into panic.

8.   Difficulty in judging the age of others can lead the teenager into illegal relationships and acts (e.g., sexual advances to somebody under age).

9.   An innate lack of concern for the outcome can be problematic (e.g., an assault that is disproportionately intense and damaging). Young people on the spectrum often lack insight and deny responsibility, blaming someone else, which may be part of an inability to see their inappropriate behavior as others see it.

10.   An innate lack of awareness of the outcome can lead the teen to embark on actions with unforeseen consequences (e.g., fire-setting may result in a building’s destruction).

Many of the traits listed above affect the teen’s ability to make logical decisions, thus limiting his or her level of responsibility. Whether the teen is identified as an “offender” (as distinct from someone who has committed an offense) depends on chance factors in his or her environment (e.g., effectiveness of his/her supervision, the recognition of ASD and the understanding of those around.


 
 
More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
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…

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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...

--------------------------------------------------------------

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…

------------------------------------------------------------

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…

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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...

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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...
 
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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...

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