An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome
The Organization for Autism Research, founded and led by parents and grandparents of children with autism, have a very extensive set of resources for parents and teachers. Here is their guide to teachers.
Having a child with Asperger Syndrome (i.e. level 1 autism) in your class will have a different impact on your classroom environment than having a child with classic autism. But as is the case with all individuals on the autism spectrum, each individual with Asperger Syndrome is different and will present his or her own unique challenges. This information was written with students with Asperger Syndrome in mind. For basic information about AS, click here.
Children with Asperger Syndrome often display considerable academic strengths. Due to the effects of the disorder, however, these students often require different teaching strategies in order to discover and capitalize on those strengths. Within the school environment, students with Asperger Syndrome also face many obstacles to relationship building and interacting socially with their peers.
The first challenge is to recognize that Asperger Syndrome presents serious challenges for both the student and you. It can be very deceptive, almost hidden to the untrained eye at first. Children with Asperger Syndrome can, at times, look and act like much like their typically developing peers. Further, these children tend to perform as well or better academically than their classmates, which has the potential to mask the effects of the disorder.
Asperger Syndrome is a neurological disorder; individuals with the disorder often have difficulty controlling certain behaviors. Most often these behaviors are a function of Asperger Syndrome and not the result of an individual’s willful disobedience or defiance.
People with Asperger Syndrome exhibit a variety of behaviors. Learning about Asperger Syndrome and how it specifically affects your student will help you effectively manage these behaviors. Here are some helpful hints for teachers:
- Operate on “Asperger time.” This means, “Twice as much time, half as much done.” Students with Asperger Syndrome often need additional time to complete assignments, gather materials, and orient themselves during transitions.
- Manage the environment. Any change can increase anxiety for a student with Asperger Syndrome. Make an effort to provide schedule consistency and avoid sudden changes.
- Create a balanced agenda. Consider creating a visual schedule that includes daily activities for students with Asperger Syndrome. Monitor and restructure the schedule as needed.
- Share the agenda. Students with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty distinguishing between information that is essential and information that is not. In addition, they often do not remember information that others acquire from past experiences or that come as “common sense.” Thus, it is important to state the obvious and “live out loud.” This will help your student understand the meaning behind your actions.
- Simplify language. Keep your language simple and concise, and speak at a slow, deliberate pace. Students with Asperger Syndrome to have difficulty “reading between the lines,” understanding abstract concepts like sarcasm, or interpreting facial expressions. Be clear and specific when providing instructions.
- Manage change of plans. Make sure that your student with Asperger Syndrome understands that sometimes planned activities can be changed, canceled, or rescheduled. Have backup plans and share them with your student in advance. Prepare them for change whenever possible; tell them about assemblies, fire drills, guest speakers, and testing schedules. Recurring transitions, such as vacations and the beginning and end of the school year, may cause anxiety.
- Provide reassurance. Because students with Asperger Syndrome cannot predict upcoming events, they are often unsure what to do. Provide feedback and reassurance frequently so that the student knows he or she is moving in the right direction or completing the correct task. Use frequent check-ins to monitor student progress and stress.
- Be generous with praise. Find opportunities throughout the day to tell your student with Asperger Syndrome what he or she did right. Compliment both successes and worthy attempts at success. Be specific with your words so that your student knows why you are providing praise.
Reach out to the parents
The parents of your student with Asperger Syndrome are your first and best source of information about their child; they can provide you with information about their child’s behavior and daily activities. Ideally, this partnership will begin with meetings before the school year. After that, it is critical to establish mutually agreed-upon modes and patterns of communication with the family throughout the school year. You can use this sample document to maintain communications with parents.
Prepare the classroom
Having learned about the individual sensitivities and characteristics of your student with Asperger Syndrome, you now have the information you need to organize your classroom appropriately. You can manipulate the physical aspects of your classroom, making it more comfortable for children with Asperger Syndrome without sacrificing your plans for the entire class.
Our Life Journey through Autism: An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome resource contains information about specific approaches for structuring the academic and physical environment to address your students’ needs.
Educate Peers and Promote Social Goals
Children with Asperger Syndrome have social deficits that make it difficult for them to establish friendships. However, with appropriate assistance, they can engage with peers and establish mutually enjoyable and lasting relationships.
The characteristics of Asperger Syndrome can cause peers to perceive a child with the disorder as “strange” or “different.” Children with Asperger Syndrome are more likely than their typically developing classmates to be the victims of teasing and bullying, and often cannot discriminate between playful versus mean-spirited interactions. Teachers and school staff must be aware that students with Asperger Syndrome are potentially prime targets, and they must watch for signs.
Research shows that typically developing peers have more positive attitudes, increased understanding, and greater acceptance of children with Asperger Syndrome when provided with clear, accurate, and straightforward information about the disorder. Thus, educating students about the common traits and behaviors of children with Asperger Syndrome can lead to more positive social interactions between your student and his or her peers.
Many social interactions occur during unstructured times in settings outside the classroom, where students with Asperger Syndrome may end up being isolated. You may want to create a “circle of friends,” or a rotating group of responsible peer buddies for the student with Asperger Syndrome; they will not abandon him or her, serve as a model of appropriate social behavior, and protect against teasing or bullying. This strategy should also be considered for use outside of school.
Manage behavioural challenges
School is a stressful environment. Common academic and social situations may create extreme stress for students with Asperger Syndrome. These stressors may include: difficulty predicting events because of changing schedules, tuning into teachers’ directions and understanding them, interacting with peers, anticipating change, and structural items such as classroom lighting, sounds, noises, odors, etc.
Tantrums or meltdowns (terms that are often used interchangeably) typically occur in three stages that can be of variable length. These stages and their associated interventions are described more fully in the Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome. Students with Asperger Syndrome rarely indicate (verbally) that they are under stress. While they may not always know when they are near a stage of crisis, most meltdowns do not occur without warning. There is a pattern of behavior, which is sometimes subtle, that suggests an imminent, behavioral outburst. Prevention through the use of appropriate academic, environmental, social, and sensory supports, as well as modification to environment and expectations, are the most effective methods.
Their full, 101 page guide can be obtained here: