Teaching Students with Aspergers Syndrome: Tips for Teachers and Parents

 

Students with asperger's syndrome are unique, and they can affect the learning environment in both positive and negative ways. In the classroom, the asperger student can present a challenge for the most experienced teacher. These students can also contribute a lot to the classroom because they can be extremely creative and see things and execute various tasks in different ways. Teachers can learn a lot when they have a student with asperger's syndrome in their class, but the teacher may experience some very challenging days too.

Here are some tips for teachers and parents to consider:

Every child with asperger's syndrome is different.

As a teacher you want to take the information you have acquired and apply it, but every asperger's student is different, so it's difficult to take knowledge you have gained from one experience, and apply it to a situation with another student with asperger's syndrome. Remember that each child with asperger's syndrome is unique, and strategies that have worked with other students in the past may not work effectively with the asperger's student because they perceive the world in a unique way, and they sometimes react to their environment in unpredictable ways.

Avoid demanding the student with asperger's syndrome maintain eye contact with you.

Eye contact is a form of communication in American culture; we assume a person is giving us their attention if they look at us. The asperger's student experiences difficulty with eye contact; it is extemely hard for them to focus their eyes on a person for any extended period of time. Limited eye contact is a part of the disability. Don't demand an asperger student look you in the eye as you are talking to them--this is extremely difficult for them to do.

Asperger's students frequently are visual learners.

Despite difficulties with eye contact, many asperger's students are visual learners. Much of the information presented in classrooms is oral, and often students with asperger's syndrome may have difficulty with processing language. Often they cannot take in oral language quickly, and presenting information visually may be more helpful. Many asperger's students are "hands-on" learners.

Asperger's students and "showing work".

Many teachers require students to "show their work"; in other words, illustrate how they got the answer to a problem."Showing work" is a demand that usually accompanies math homework. This may not be the best strategy with the asperger's syndrome student, and may in fact lead to a big disagreement with the student.

Since many asperger's students are visual learners, they picture how to solve the problem in their heads. To make them write out how they got they answer seems quite illogical to them. Why would you waste your time writing out something you can see in your head? The requirement of "showing work" simply does not make any sense to them, and it may not be worth the time it it would take to convince them to do the requirement anyway.

If the student with asperger's syndrome is staring off into space or doodling, don't assume they're not listening.

Remember the asperger's student may experience difficulty with communication, especially nonverbal communication. What appears to the teacher to be behavior illustrating a lack of attention on the part of the student may not be that at all. In fact, the asperger's student who is doodling or staring off may actually be trying to focus him or herself through the act of doodling or staring. The student is unaware that nonverbally s/he is communicating to the teacher that "I'm not listening, or I'm bored." Doodling or staring may actually help the student with asperger's syndrome focus more on what the teacher is presenting. You might simply ask the student a question to check if he or she is listening.

Students with asperger's syndrome may experience difficulties with focusing as well as lack of focus.

Focus involves attention. Sometimes asperger's students focus all their attention on a particular object or subject; therefore, they fail to focus on what information the instructor is presenting. All their energy is directed toward a particular subject or object. Why? Because that object or subject is not overwhelming to them and they understand it.

To overcome this problem, the teacher can try to establish some connection between the object or subject of interest and the area of study. For example, if a student is fascinated with skateboarding, the student could learn reading and writing skills through researching a famous skateboarder and writing a report. Math skills could be taught by looking at the statistics involving competitive skateboarders.

The possibilities for instruction are endless, but it will take some time and creative planning on the part of the teacher.

Sensory issues affect learning for the student with asperger's syndrome.

Often aperger's students are distracted by something in the environment that they simply cannot control. To them, the ticking of the clock can seem like the beating of a drum, the breeze from an open window can feel like a tremendous gust, the smell of food from the cafeteria can overpower them and make them feel sick, the bright sunshine pouring through the windows may be almost blinding to them.

This sensory overload the asperger student experiences may overwhelm them, so focusing can be difficult and frustration occurs. Frustration can then lead to disruptions from the student. To cope with frustration the student might choose to repeatedly tap a pencil on a desk (or another disruptive behavior) to focus themselves because s/he is experiencing sensory overload. What appears disruptive to the teacher and the rest of the class may actually be a way for the asperger's student to cope with the sensory overload.

Obviously, a teacher does not want disruptions in the classroom. Take time to evaluate the classroom in terms of sensory stimulation, and how the environment affects the student with asperger's syndrome. Perhaps some modifications can be made, or the student can be taught some coping skills that are not disruptive to classmates, like squeezing a squishy ball in their hand or some similar activity.

Don't assume the student with asperger's syndrome is disrupting class or misbehaving to get atttention.

More often than not, students with asperger's syndrome react to their environment, and sometimes the reaction can be negative. Sometimes the student may be reacting to a sensory issue, and other times the student may be reacting to a feeling of fear. The asperger's student feels fear because of a lack of control over his/her response to the environment or because of a lack of predictability. The student with asperger's syndrome does best with clear structure and routine. A visual schedule can be helpful for the student.

Students with asperger's syndrome experience diffculty with transitions.

Often a student with asperger's syndrome gets "stuck" and has difficulty moving from one activity to another. They may need to be coached through the transition, and if a typical school day is loaded with lots of transitions, the student faces increased anxiety. Moving from one activity to another is not a challenge for most students, but for the student with asperger's syndrome transitions can be monumental tasks.

Some possible strategies a teacher, paraprofessional, or parent can use: visual schedules, role-playing or preparing the student by discussing upcoming activities. Appropriate strategies are dependent on the age of the student and his/her abilities.

As a teacher, paraprofessional or parent of a child with asperger's syndrome, it's important to recognize the child's gifts as well as limitations. Students with asperger's syndrome present a challenge for the people who work with them, but these children also enrich our lives. So when you're feeling frazzled, take a deep breath and remember that tommorrow is another day. This child will grow up and make a contribution to our world in some way we can only imagine, and you can help this child.


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Comments 25 comments

woodpecker ultrasonic scaler 4 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to debate, I feel really love about it and learn further on this subject. If feasible, you have acquired expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more info? It is extremely useful for me. xyj


Erica 4 years ago

I have aspergers syndrome my life is hard kids don't understand why I stare at them but I tell them that its cause i

Have trouble socialzing I haven't hung out with one single kid in my life and I'm 17 teen im so sad about that;'(


JoMarie Middleton 4 years ago

My son has AS it is a stuggle for him to put thing into words or talk to someone on a report.

He so close to finish high school and My consern is that he own do to his stuggle with getting his asigments done.

My question is how can I help get these assignment done in a timely manner


Carol - Aspie Sibling 4 years ago

Great article Julie - it is so important for Aspie's to feel as safe and secure in their school environment as they do at home. An experienced teacher who is committed to working with parents in developing an appropriate IEP for the child is they key to that.

www.aspergersschools.org


angie ashbourne profile image

angie ashbourne 5 years ago

Hi! Julie A. Johnson Good Hub! Angie


~Christina profile image

~Christina 5 years ago from Northern Virginia

This is a really good article - every teacher should read it. We believe our daughter has aspergers and so much of this advice would have helped her, especially in middle school.


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 5 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

Yes- the asperger child likes specific information, and this can make teaching difficult because it's hard to be specific all the time. Problematic thinking patterns can be difficult too-- I will have a hub about this topic soon. Good luck to you and your aspergers child.


deblipp profile image

deblipp 5 years ago

This is great information. I also find my Asperger's kid has enormous trouble with generalization; without very specific examples he cannot learn. For example, he cannot process "mid-morning" or "evening," he needs to be told "10:30am" or "5:30pm."


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 5 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

Often written rules are helpful for these children, and we must remember because each is unique there is no one set strategy that will work.

Both classroom and workplace can present difficult situations for the person with asperger's because typically these environments involve so much communication.


Baileybear 5 years ago

My son and I have AS. I found out about me from his diagnosis - he is more obvious in presentation - I am female and gifted and compensate well. I've been accused of not listening when doodling in a meeting. I also can't retain long verbal instructions. The workplace has always been a difficult place for me


danatheteacher profile image

danatheteacher 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

I find that writing contracts or rules or whatever is "in question" for these students is particularly helpful. There is something about the way most Aspergers kids minds work where if its written down, its law of the land and cannot be argued with.

I really like that you said that all of these kids are different because that is sooooooo true. I've worked with many kids with Aspergers and not one responded to the same strategies because the spectrum is so vast. Thanks for sharing!


Melanie McKellar 6 years ago

It is very difficult when you do not live in your native country to resource information and help. Like Sudeep we live in Belgium, my child is now 13 and just started High school. We have had 6 years of trauma at School before he was diagnosed with having AS but our only option was to go to a child Psychologist, which I didn't feel helped my child as much of the psychology and discussion was aimed at us-as parents- rather than helping us all to understand and cope with my child's condition.

After just 3 weeks at school my child is on the verge of permanent exclusion, he has been rude, disruptive and his class work is not in order. It is a nightmare!!


Sudeep Dasbiswas 6 years ago

Hi julie we are the parents of a five yr old son who has recently been daignosed with aspergers ..although we knew it coming for while now. we live in germany ; being native english speakers , it is very difficult to get english language support centres on AS. while the school (english international school ) is trying to support him , lack of concentration seems to be his biggest challenge.. are there sites or resources to help him go though phonics because that seems to be his biggest challenge at this stage , he is reasonably well with numbers .. ..


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 6 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

The most helpful information I can give is early intervention and support for your grandson, and education-- not just for your grandson, but for others. If your grandson has helpful supportive educators and therapists working with him, he will develop important skills to get along in society. As grandparents you need to be accepting and supportive not only of your grandson, but also his parents because raising a special needs child can be very difficult as well as rewarding. Finally, share your knowledge of aspergers with others, so they can be more accepting and understanding of your grandson. I cannot control other people's behavior, but I can enlighten them. Follow your instincts and what your heart says. Thanks for you comments.


Mary King  6 years ago

My Grandson is five and has just been diagnosed. We are relieved, because now his behaviour can be understood, but sad because we have to come to terms with the fact that he will not do or be as we simply assumed when he was born. He is so different from his cousins (my other grandchildren). Reading your hub has been enlighteing and helpful. Here in the UK, there is a lot of support for him, and his mainstream school has some well-trained kindly people who all want to help Zach reach his full potential. As for eye contact, I think we too have a cultural preference, and see it as a prerequisite of polite communication. What keeps me awake at night is imagining all the hurts my grandson will encounter throughout his life. He is so vulnerable and so young. How can I/we protect him? How do you deal with other people's behaviour?


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 6 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

Students with autism and/or asperger's syndrome are all unique, and we should all try to recognize their gifts and help them develop their talents. The person is what is important, not the label.


Chucky 6 years ago

And some like the autism comparison. More people know autism than Aspergers, so it provides a frame of reference. Remember what you just said, we are NOT all the same.


NateSean profile image

NateSean 7 years ago from Salem, MA

***Quote***Every child with asperger's syndrome is different. ***

Yes! Yes! This is the one statement that is missing from many of the other articles. Yes! There is no cookie cutter Asperger's student.

I also like that you avoid the autism comparrison. Believe it or not that is offensive to a lot of us.


Twin XL 7 years ago

you've left us with a lot of good information to work from. Thanks for the hub!


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 7 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

Sony G, It sounds as though this child has enriched your life greatly, and I'm sure you have enriched his also. It takes a lot of patience and understanding to work with these children. Yes, these children are special gifts to us, but it also takes special people to help them discover their talents. Thank you for helping this unique and talented child. I hope others will see you as a role model. Julie


Sony G profile image

Sony G 7 years ago from West New York

Hi Julie, I have worked with a child with Asperger syndrome and it has been the most satisfying experience in my life. My most rewarding episode was seeing the child in the playing ground interacting with other children. It took me weeks of going next to the window to show him the other children playing, than going to the door and returning back etc but we did manage to have the child interacting with other kids and enjoying it. I will treasure the image of him smiling as he kicked the ball during a soccer match for the rest of my life. The child I have worked with was extremely creative and had an amazing view of the world. As a birthday gift he gave me a scroll which looked like an illuminated manuscript that I still treasure even though this thing has happened over 10 years ago - Many of these children are a God's gift to humanity - their creativity is truly impressive!!!


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 8 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

Aya, Excellent observations! Yes, in some cultures direct eye contact is a big no-no. And I think you are right, --some cultures may be a bit more accommodating to the needs of the asperger student. We all need to be mindful of ways to help students with special needs, and perhaps focusing on our similarities with others is a first step. Thanks Aya for your insightful comments. Julie


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Great Hub, Julie. While reading your hub, it occurred to me that so many of the problems experienced by children with Asperger's syndrome are unique to the American educational system.

It seems as if some cultures are so much more hospitable to people with Aspergers' than others. In some cultures, eye contact is perceived as threatening by all people, not just aspies. In many places, elementary school students stay in their home room with their primary teacher all day long, no matter what subject is being taught, so that the transitions are far less abrupt. Also, it's quite common for the same teacher to accompany a class from grade to grade throughout grammar school, so that a relationship of real intimacy is allowed to form between teacher and students.

In such environments, children with Asperger's syndrome don't stand out as different from everybody else, because their needs are being met routinely by the culture.


Julie A. Johnson profile image

Julie A. Johnson 8 years ago from Duluth, MN Author

ripplemaker, I hope this article is helpful because often these students are very misunderstood. I agree, it takes a special person to work with students who have special needs. We need to recognize the important role these teachers, paraprofessionals, and caregivers play in helping individuals with special needs. Thank you for your comments. Julie


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Hi Julie, this is truly an informative hub. Thank you for sharing. It takes much sensitivity, patience, creativity and a lot of love to teach kids esp. those with special needs. I know this will help teachers even parents or those who deal with children on a daily basis.

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