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Tips for teaching people with Aspergers Syndrome

People with autism/aspergers have trouble with organisational skills regardless of their intelligence and or age. Even a 'straight A' learner with autism/aspergers who has a photographic memory can be incapable of remembering to bring a pencil to a lesson or remembering a line for an assignment. In some cases, aid should be provided in the least restrictive way possible. Strategies could include having could have the learner put a picture of a pencil on the cover of their notebook or maintaining a list of assignments to be completed at home. Always praise a learner when remember something they have previously forgotten. Never denigrate or 'harp' at the individual when they fail. A lecture on the subject will not only NOT help, it will often make the problem worse. The individual may begin to believe they cannot remember to do, or bring these things.

These learners seem to have either the neatest or messiest desks or lockers. The one with the messiest desk will need help in frequent clean ups of the desk or locker so that they can find things. Simply remember that the individual is probably not making a conscious choice to be messy. This learner is most likely incapable of this organizational task without specific training. Attempt to train the individual in organizational skills using specific steps. Visual cues, e.g. checklists, colour coding books and equipment for a particular session or subject will be helpful.

People with autism/aspergers have problems with abstract and conceptual thinking. Some may eventually acquire abstract skills, but others never will. When abstract concepts must be used, use visual cues, such as drawings or written words, to argue the abstract idea. Avoid asking vague questions such as , "why did you do that?". Instead, say, "I did not like it when you slammed your book down when I said it was time for gym. Next time, put the book down gently and tell me you are angry. Were you showing me that you did not want to go to gym, or that you did not want to stop reading?" Avoid asking essay type questions. Be as concrete as possible in all your interactions with these learners.

An increase in unusual or difficult behaviours probably indicates in stress. Feeling a loss of control causes stress. Many times the stress will only be alleviated when the individual physically removes themselves from the stressful event or situation. If this occurs, a programme should be set up to assist the individual in re-entering and, or staying in a stressful situation. When this occurs, a "safe-place" or "safe-person" maybe useful.

Do not take misbehaviour personally. The high functioning person with autism is not a manipulative, scheming person who is trying to make life difficult. They are seldom, if ever, capable of being manipulative. Usually misbehaviour is the result of efforts to survive experiences that may be confusing, disorienting or frightening. People with autism/aspergers are, by virtue of their disability, egocentric. Most have extreme difficulty reading the reactions of others.

People with autism/aspergers use and interpret speech literally. Until you know the capabilities of the individual. You should avoid:

1. Idioms (e.g., save you're breath, jump the gun, second thoughts).

2. Double meanings (most jokes have double meanings).

3. Sarcasm (e.g., saying, "great!" after he has just spilled a bottle of ketchup on the table).

4. Nicknames

5. "Cute" names (e.g., Pal, Buddy, Wise Guy).

If the session involves pairing off or choosing partners, either draw numbers or use some other arbitrary means of pairing. Or ask an especially kind learner if they would agree to choose the individual with autism/aspergers as their partner before pairing takes place. The individual with autism/aspergers is most often the individual left with no partner. This is unfortunate since these learners could benefit most from having a partner.

Assume nothing when assessing skills. For example, the individual with autism/aspergers maybe a "maths wizard" in Algebra, but not able to make simple change at a cash register. Or, they may have an incredible memory about books they have read, speeches they have heard or sports statistics, but still may not be able to remember to bring a pencil to a learning session. Uneven skill development is a hallmark of autism.

When working with the autistic spectrum...

BE POSITIVE

BE CREATIVE

BUT MUST OF ALL BE FLEXIBLE

 

Remember that facial expressions and other social cues may not work. Most individuals with autism/aspergers have difficulty reading facial expressions and interpreting "body language"

If the learner does not seem to be learning a task, break it down into smaller steps or present the task in several ways (e.g., visually,verbally,physically).

Avoid verbal overload. Be clear. Use shorter sentences if you perceive that the learner does not fully understand you. Although the individual probably had no hearing impairment and may be paying attention, they may have difficulty understanding your point and identifying important information.

Prepare the learner for all environmental and, or changes in routine, e.g., another teacher, change of timetable, room change. Use a written or visual schedule to prepare the individual as much as possible for this change.

Behaviour management works, but if used incorrectly, it can encourage robot like behaviour, provide only short term behaviour change or result in some form of aggression. Use positive and chronologically age appropriate behaviour procedures. Consistent treatment and expectations from everyone is vital. Remember to make a difference everyone needs to "sing from the same hymn sheet".

Be aware that the individual can perceive normal levels of auditory and visual input as too much or too little. For example, the hum of florescent lighting is extremely distracting for someone with autism/aspergers. Consider environmental changes such as removing "visual clutter" from the room or seating changes if the individual seems distracted or upset by the classroom environment.

If the high functioning learner with autism/aspergers uses repetitive verbal arguments and or verbal questions, you need to interrupt what can become a continuing, repetitive verbal litany. Continually responding in a logical manner or arguing back seldom stops this behaviour. The subject of the argument or question is not always the subject that may have upset the individual. More often the individual is communicating a feeling of loss of control or uncertainty about someone or something in the environment . Try requesting that the individual write down the question or argumentative statement. Then write down your reply. This usually begins to calm the individual down and stops repetitive activity. If that doesn't work, write down the individual' repetitive questioner argument and ask them to write down a logical reply (perhaps one they think you would make). This distracts from the escalating verbal aspect of the situation and may give them a more socially acceptable way of expressing frustration or anxiety. Another alternative is role playing the repetitive argue mentor question with you taking part and having them answer you as they think you might.

Since these individuals experience various communication difficulties, do not rely on individuals with autism/aspergers to relay important messages to others about events, assignments, rules etc., unless you try it on an experimental basis with follow up, or unless you are already certain that the individual has mastered the skill. Even seding notes home may not work. The individual may not remember to deliver the note or may even lose it before reaching home. Phone calls home work best until the skill can be developed. Frequent and accurate communication between the teacher and parent/caregiver is very important.

If you work with people with autism/aspergers you will require these skills:

PATIENCE

EMPATHY

and

COMMITMENT

(disclaimer:please note this information has been taken from a leaflet I acquired not my own work)

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