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Teaching the Anxious Student on the Autism Spectrum: 25 Tips for Parents and Teachers

Teaching students with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) who also experience social anxiety in the classroom WILL be challenging. School can be difficult for these special needs students without the anxiety issue, but it is especially difficult for the anxious child on the spectrum. If you are a parent or teacher of an anxious student with the disorder, knowing how to encourage and foster a good environment for learning is paramount.

There is no one sign that indicates that an HFA student has social anxiety. However, some common signs include:
  • appearing very anxious when the center of attention
  • being constantly alone in the playground
  • clinging
  • crying for no apparent reason
  • devoting an excessive amount of time to the computer
  • experiencing severe anxiety about tests and quizzes
  • freezing for no apparent reason
  • frequent claims of illness so as to avoid going to school
  • having no friends, or having only one friend
  • hovering on the edge of groups
  • not joining in
  • poor eye contact
  • refusing to go to school 
  • saying very little or even nothing during class
  • speaking very softly
  • throwing tantrums or experiencing meltdowns
  • unwillingness to participate in class activities (e.g., show and tell, debating, reading aloud, raising their hand to answer and ask questions, etc.)



If you have a student in class who is experiencing social anxiety, here are some ideas for assisting him or her:

1. Allow HFA children to take a "break" (e.g., go get a drink) if they seem to become overwhelmed

2. Allow the child to arrive late if it makes the transition easier.

3. Allow the him or her to sit with classmates that he/she is familiar with or is friends with.

4. Assign a "lifeline" peer to the HFA youngster who can help answer his/her questions if called upon in a group setting.


6. Develop and follow a regular predictable classroom routine.

7. Embarrassment is a concern for all adolescents, but is multiplied in teens on the spectrum experiencing anxiety. Modifications and adaptations should be in place with subtle non-intrusive methods to allow the teen to maintain a sense of dignity and responsibility. Blatant, harsh criticisms of these adolescents will perpetuate their fears of failure and feed into their cycles of anxiety and avoidance.

8. Encourage completion of activities and assignments, yet allow extra time when needed.

9. Encourage friendships between kids on the autism spectrum and friendly, outgoing classmates.

10. Encourage the child to keep a written log of assignments and due dates.

11. Ensure that you have a zero tolerance rule for bullying and discrimination of any kind. Have consequences in place for children who embarrass or humiliate other kids to prevent this behavior in the classroom (e.g., during speeches, any youngster who snickers during another child's speech would have marks deducted from his/her own grade).

12. For younger kids on the spectrum, make the student your special helper to give him/her a role in the classroom.

13. For younger kids on the spectrum, read storybooks about self-esteem and bullying. For older kids read novels or watch movies with the same content.

14. Have a preset time each week that the child can talk with you or another staff member about how he is feeling and his fears.

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

15. Help the child confront feared situations with gentle encouragement.

16. Identify a "safe place" that the child can go to if feeling overwhelmed, and have a signal and exit strategy for these situations.

17. If an autistic child misses a lot of school due to social anxiety, allow gradual reintroduction at a pace that the child is comfortable with.

18. If possible, decrease homework load.

19. In your interactions with the child, speak softly and calmly.



20. Modify instructional methods if necessary (e.g., explaining an assignment one-on-one with the child).

21. Pair children for activities rather than allowing children to choose pairs, to prevent the child with HFA from being left out.

22. Promote self-esteem by offering praise for small accomplishments and rewarding participation even if the child gives a wrong answer.

23. Regular meetings between parents, teachers, counselors and other school staff are important for planning classroom strategies for the special needs child.

24. Team with parents to develop calming techniques and relaxation strategies.

25. The child may require social skills training or instruction in relaxation techniques delivered by a special education teacher or other team member.

Note to Parents: If your child experiences social anxiety in a school setting, feel free to copy, paste, and print this article for your child's teachers.


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

==> Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

 
==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism 

Teaching Children on the Autism Spectrum the Social Etiquette of "Play"

"Any suggestions on how to teach my child [on the autism spectrum] how to play with other children his age without causing arguments and upsetting them. He has to have things go his way or he gets very controlling and nasty."
 
Young people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have trouble with social interactions. Understanding what someone is saying and being able to react to it quickly and appropriately is critical to being part of a conversation. But some kids on the autism spectrum can’t do that without help.

These kids also tend to have difficulty taking and waiting for turns, playing by the rules, and reacting appropriately if they're not winning. But that doesn't mean that the youngster who is different socially can't be included. Your son or daughter can learn the social etiquette of play, how to avoid and resolve conflicts, and how to show some empathy.

Techniques to help teach your child how to get along with peers during "play":

1. Play with your son or daughter in a “peer-like” way. Kids with HFA learn crucial skills through play with other kids, but they also learn a great deal through play with their mom or dad. Those kids whose moms and dads frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with peers. This is especially true, however, when the mother or father plays with their youngster in an effectively positive and peer-like way. Observational studies indicate that the parents of the most socially competent kids laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their youngster during play, are responsive to the youngster's ideas, and aren't too directive.

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

2. Provide your son or daughter with opportunities to play with peers. There is no substitute for the experience kids on the spectrum get from interacting with peers. Kids who have had many opportunities to play with peers from an early age are clearly at an advantage when they enter a formal group setting (e.g., daycare, public school). These young people especially benefit when they can develop long- lasting relationships. Kids - even toddlers - who are able to participate in stable peer groups become more competent over time and have fewer difficulties than kids whose peer group membership shifts. In other words, kids develop more sophisticated social strategies when they are able to maintain stable relationships with other kids they like over long periods.



3. Reflect a positive, resilient attitude toward “social setbacks.” Exclusion by peers is a fact of life for the HFA child. They have different reactions to these rejections, ranging from anger to acceptance. Some come to believe that “my friends are out to get me," or that peers are just generally mean, in which case they are likely to react with aggression and hostility to mild slights by peers. Others may assume that these rejections are caused by an enduring, personal deficiency (e.g., "there’s something wrong with me") and are likely to withdraw from further peer interaction.

Socially competent kids on the spectrum, in contrast, tend to explain these rejections as temporary or in ways that recognize that a social situation can be improved by changing their own behavior (e.g., "I'll try to be nice to my friends next time"). Sometimes these kids recognize that the situation itself led to the rejection (e.g., all three kids wanted to ride bikes, but there were only two bikes, so one child was left out).

Moms and dads of these socially competent kids endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes. Rather than making a statement like, "That's a really mean kid!" …they may say something like, "Well, maybe he's having a bad day." They make constructive attributions like, "Sometimes children just want to play by themselves," rather than expressing a sentiment such as, “Those kids are not being very nice if they won't let you play with them."

These parents avoid negative statements like, "Maybe they don't like you," and offer instead suggestions like, "Maybe they don't want to play that particular game, but there might be something else they would enjoy." Such positive statements encourage these children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.

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

4. Use a problem-solving approach. When problem-solving, moms and dads can help their son or daughter consider various solutions and perspectives. As parents know, there are often no easy answers to most of kid’s problems with peers. Therefore, it is helpful for these kids to learn how to think about relationships and weigh the consequences of their actions for themselves and others. Kids who are encouraged to think in terms of others' feelings and needs are more positive and prosocial with peers. Also, kids whose moms and dads talk with them more often about emotions are better liked by their peers.

5. Talk with your child about social relationships and values. Kids on the spectrum who have more frequent conversations with a parent about peer relationships are better liked by other kids in their classrooms and are rated by educators as more socially competent. As a part of normal, daily conversation, these parents and kids talk about the everyday events that happen in school, including things that happen with schoolmates. Often these interactions take place on the way home from school or at dinner. These talks are not lectures, but rather conversations enjoyed by both parent and youngster that (a) communicate to the youngster an interest in his/her well-being, and (b) serve as a basis for information exchange and genuine problem solving.


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

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