Autistic Spectrum Disorder in the Classroom

Children, who have been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), for example Asperger’s syndrome, have experienced the reality that school be problematic. In the classroom this disorder is something that’s problematical for teachers, parents, and the child with the ASD to deal with.

One of these disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome is seen more in regular classrooms then other more serious forms of ASD. The main variance in diagnosis with Asperger syndrome is that it is characterized by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom as is the case with more severe ASD patients. This translates to more work for the educator and parent in attempting to educate the child.

In contrast to other autism spectrum disorders Asperger’s kids exhibit a much higher level of retention in the areas of verbal and intellectual development. They may not be as withdrawn around others as those experiencing more incapacitating, forms of autism. They seem able to manage interaction with others, but could find it cumbersome. For example, a person with AS might go off on a tangent about a favorite subject without regard to the other person in the conversation and further ignoring the feelings or reaction of the other person. Generally this results in misunderstanding or not being able to identify the listener’s moods, reactions, or strong desire to leave.

Asperger syndrome individuals often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to unbending customs and habits, move in repetitive ways, or consume themselves with specific parts of objects and not the entire item.

These students can possess remarkably advanced vocabulary at a young age but have difficulty understanding symbolic or allegorical language. There is a tendency for them to assign literal definitions to everything they encounter as well as the use of language.

Skills dependent on a level of motor dexterity, such as riding a bicycle or opening a jar, are further challenges. Lessons requiring these skills come hard for them as well as other things such as sports. They may be poorly coordinated, or have an odd or bouncy step or carriage, poor handwriting, or problems with visual-motor coordination.

Asperger’s Syndrome students are great at rote memorization, but critical thinking and other abstract concepts may be beyond their comprehension. The level of intellectual ability that can be displayed can confuse the educator if they are not aware of the syndrome. Many times work is assigned that the Asperger’s kid cannot do, even though the knowledge is there and might have been displayed in a question and answer discussion. It is important to remember as adjust learning to the fact that the melding of ideas will not necessarily occur. Alternative methods must be applied to get the Asperger’s student to cooperate.

The Autism Society of American (ASA) reports additional challenges facing these students as that, in general, these students are typically rigid and stubborn when confronted or forced to do something. Classrooms where these students are being tasked to perform daily activities such as morning meetings, or work in groups are failing to address these students’ needs due to the inherent lack of the skills necessary to perform either assignment. Proper social skill training is a necessary part of meeting the educational needs of these students. Without this skills training, the students are being set up to fail in the classroom setting. Richard Lavoie, a well-known speaker on Learning Disabilities, once said “You can accommodate students whom cannot read nor do math but how can you accommodate for social skills?”

A regular routine to the day is a good tool to aid these students. Employing the use of pictures and charts where the students can visualize the day and be aware of any changes that might happen in order to be prepared. A particularly useful tool for students with Asperger’s is the use of Social Stories. Social Stories are teacher made booklets that are targeted towards individual students and the unique situation that student will face. There is nothing worse than a fire, or tornado alarm to disrupt these students into a state of unreasonableness. Proper preparation in advance can alleviate potential tantrums.

Social Skills Training is a necessary component of any educational plan that is addressing Asperger’s. Educators must direct the teaching of social skills and cues for desired result. Non-verbal body language and non-verbal social messages are particular areas to focus on. Proper social contact with classroom peers must be taught in that the Asperger’s probably has no skills in this area. Examples of this could start with teaching manners i.e., how to behave in two way conversation, and how to ask a question properly. Parents and teachers can also use different social skills training techniques. The following techniques represent some of the methods that can be used. Drawn from these are but several in a long list that can be found with research:

“Emotions Scrapbooks: Recognizing the feelings and thoughts of others is often difficult for children with ASD. Emotions scrapbooks feature magazine pictures and photographs that show people participating in social situations while expressing their feelings. The goal is for the child to accurately identify how the characters are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language.

Social Skills Workbooks: Workbooks and board games such as Do Watch Listen Say (Quill) and Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson) are fun activities disguised as play. They encourage the development of skills essential to social functioning, including reciprocity, imitation, and conversation.

One-to-One Thematic Play: Role-playing involves acting out social interactions that the child with ASD would typically encounter in an unstructured school situation. For example, the practitioner might ask the child to respond to a peer who has invited him to play kickball during recess.

Social Skills Groups: Peer mentors in the child’s class can encourage him to interact with others. With the right guidance, mentors can also model socially appropriate behavior and show their support to the child with ASD in unstructured school situations.

Social Stories: Single-themed narratives present social conventions to the child with ASD in the form of a brief story. For example, if the child has trouble on the swing set, a social story might explore this situation in detail, introducing the concepts of taking turns and asking a classmate to play. Ideally, the story is written from the first-person perspective of the child and sympathizes with difficult aspects of the situation (e.g., “It’s hard to wait my turn when I want to ride on the swing now”).”

While certainly a challenge, as demonstrated, the learner with Asperger’s Syndrome has a greater capacity to succeed. Without the more encumbering symptoms of other Autistic Spectrum Disorders there is potential for success through high school and college. The following link is a testimonial from an Asperger’s student with a bright future:



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