Children with high-functioning autism or Aspergers Syndrome have many similarities to their peers. They want to be liked, accepted, and fit in with their classmates. It was once assumed that these children preferred isolation, but this is not usually the case. Instead, many have described that it is their difficulty with social skills and pragmatic language, sensory differences, and restricted interests that make relating to others a challenge. Whenever possible, children with high-functioning autism or Aspergers Syndrome should be mainstreamed into a regular classroom with age-level peers. This is important for their social growth, intellectual stimulation, and the ability to function in society. If full-day mainstreaming is not possible, the child should come into the mainstream classroom during the subjects in which he or she has demonstrated an ability to participate and comprehend what is being taught.
The following are ten classroom adaptations which can be made to help your child with Aspergers Syndrome succeed in school:
- Select a teacher who is sympathetic and informed. The teacher should be educated in the symptoms and diagnostic observations associated with Aspergers Syndrome. This is such a complex disorder that the teacher will benefit from reading materials which describe the condition. Ideally, he or she is has prior experience teaching children with it. This teacher should have a patient disposition and be willing to keep in close contact with you as the parent.
- Classroom rules should be clearly understood. They could be posted somewhere easily seen, with a picture or icon to help visually represent each rule. They should be written in simple language. When a rule is broken, there should be a predictable consequence as a deterrent, such as “think time,” where the child must sit in a quiet place away from the other students for a brief period. A teacher’s aide could accompany the child to a seat in the back of the room, outside the door, or in another room until he can collect himself.
- Sensory stressors should be limited. A sensory profile should be created for the child. Based on this profile, the child’s seating arrangement and immediate surroundings should be carefully planned. The child may need a quiet place to occasionally escape from sensory stresses, like a sectioned-off reading station where he can sit quietly by himself. Doors should be kept closed to eliminate environmental noise. The child may benefit from ear plugs, headphones, or auditory trainers during tests or quiet work, to help him concentrate. The classroom should be free of perfumes, odors, and things that spin or shine which could cause distractions. When the child becomes stressed, he could be provided with a quiet sensory object to manipulate, such as a squishy ball or squeeze toy. The object could be removed if the child becomes disruptive.
- Assign peer tutors. Many amazing success stories have been reported about children with autism or Aspergers disorder who work with a peer tutor. The tutor should be a same-age peer who is responsible, academically successful, and can model good behavior. The peer could sit next to the child with Aspergers and give gentle guidance to help him stay on task. The tutor could provide assistance with class work, and even protect the child with Aspergers from bullying by setting an example to the other students in class. Rather than put all the responsibility on one student, the peer tutor could change with each new class subject or activity. In other words, there could be a peer tutor during math, and a different one during art, another one during P.E. etc. These rotations will not only help the child with Aspergers to associate with many different children his age, but will keep the tutors from feeling overwhelmed. Some children with Aspergers syndrome who experience particular difficulty with change may have more success with a single tutor all day long.
- A predictable class schedule is important. Children with Aspergers disorder have difficulty with transitioning from one activity to another. He or she will benefit from a classroom where there is order, structure, and a sense of security. It would be better, for example, if math were always after lunch, and art everyday at 2:00, etc., with some exceptions. The child will benefit from having and using a daily class schedule that he can refer to. A younger child might use a smaller adaptation of a transition board, and an older child should move towards a daily planner that he can fill out with the teacher each morning and look to throughout the day. He could be taught to cross off activities when they are completed. This is a tool that can benefit him throughout his life. The teacher should also provide verbal or visual prompts five minutes before the current activity in the class ends, so the child can begin to disengage.
- Social skills should be taught. What makes school awkward for these children is that they misread social cues and can’t understand humor. The current “cool” lingo used by their peers escapes them. And they might talk incessantly about the same topic, or invade the personal space of other people. They might speak too loudly, too quietly, or in a monotone. It’s often hard for other children to relate to them for these reasons. The child with Aspergers syndrome should be practicing social skills, perhaps by spending private time with a speech and language pathologist (or another therapist) practicing things like voice volume, facial expressions and what they mean, idioms, gestures, and pragmatic language. The child should practice conversation skills, manners, etc.
- Comprehension should not be assumed. It’s common for these children to have difficulty with comprehending meaning in oral and written language. They often take things literally, and become confused or lose focus. The teacher or an aide should be patient and willing to re-explain things to the student if he becomes confused.
- Set guidelines to help ward off perseverative behaviors. If a child continues to ask the same question repeatedly, or recites a phrase over and over, set some rules at home and school. “You can ask a question twice and I will answer it, but after that you must say something else.” Reward the child when he stays on task and follows the current topic without falling back on his obsessions.
- The child’s talents and strengths should be emphasized. These children need a positive sense of self, because they generally feel misplaced and awkward. If your son or daughter were good at constructing things, for example, that ability could be used in a variety of ways to assist the teacher and reinforce concepts being taught. A child who is a talented speller or artist could have those talents encouraged. Using a little creativity, the teacher can find ways to utilize the child’s strengths in a variety of academic subjects.
- Motivators should be found. It’s often frustrating for teachers dealing with these special kids, because they are not motivated by the same kinds of rewards that other children are. Verbal praise or good grades may not mean much to them. It’s important to uncover what really motivates them so that they can be rewarded for their efforts in a way that is meaningful.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.