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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.
For more information on asperger's syndrome and children see:
- Aspergers Children and Problematic Thinking Patterns...
Imagine not understanding what others are thinking and feeling, not being able to empathize with them. This is the world of the aspergers child. Aspergers syndrome is a disorder similar to high-functioning...
- Does Your Child Have Aspergers Syndrome?
As a parent do you sometimes feel your child is different than other children? Are you perplexed by peculiar behaviors? Do you sometimes feel sad because your child shirinks away from hugs and doesn't want to...
- What it's Like to Have Aspergers Syndrome: A Story
- Should Your Child be on Meds?
For information on communication and behavior of asperger's syndrome children see:
- Tips for communicating with aspergers children: a gu...
Aspergers children are challenged by communication. Verbal communication is difficult, but when nonverbal is added in the mix, communication becomes overwhelming. To add to the dilemma family members and...
- Behavior of Children with Aspergers Syndrome: Why They Do What They Do
A child rips up his assignment, screams
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.