The Autism Advocate

Practical tips and musings on raising children and teens with autism

Back to School 101: Tips for General Education Teachers About Students with Asperger's Syndrome

Tips for teachers who have Asperger's Syndrome students included in class.

Often junior high and high school teachers have teenagers with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) included in their classrooms, and are not given much in the way of useful information. Here I hope to  provide a few practical tips that may be helpful to educators with no practical knowledge about students on the spectrum.

Parents, you may wish to print this out to give to your child's teacher, or send them the link. There are only a few tips here, but usually teachers are receptive so practical information that may help them to understand and reach their student.

Asperger's or High Functioning Autism (HFA) is often described as an ‘invisible disability' because students on the spectrum do not look different frorm most students. Most teachers expect them to act like everyone else, but often the student gets in trouble for behaving in a way that seems rude, disruptive or non-compliant. A diagnosis of Asperger's or HFA is based on challenges in the areas of communication, and social relationships, as well as what appears to be an obsession or passion for a particular area of interest.

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Here are some tips that may help the school year go a little easier for you and your student on the spectrum:

* It's a good idea to have a hard copy of the homework assignment to hand to your students on the spectrum, because most of them are mono-channel, meaning they have only one other processiona channels (auditory or visual) working effectively at one time.  This means they cannot look at the assignment on the board, write it down and still be able to focus on what you are saying. By the time they have finished copying down the assignment, they have missed your intro to that day's lesson. This mono-channel aspect makes it hard for a student to multi-task, and by only requiring him/her to do one thing at a time, it will be much easier for the student to be focused on the day's lesson.
* The student with Asperger's or HFA usually takes things literally - this is part of the communication challenge. For example, if you address the class by saying "Please turn to page 12," expecting the students to start doing the work on that page, the Aspie student may turn to page 12, and then just sit there, awaiting further instruction. Meanwhile, you may think he is being a smart-aleck, but I assure you, he is not. You need to say "Please turn to page 12 and write the answers to question 1-5 in your notebook."
* This taking things literally means that also the student may not understand all the nuances of language or social customs, what we call ‘hidden curriculum.' Think of what it is like as a foreigner in a new land and how they need to be explained the local customs- that is what it is like for a person on the spectrum.
* Students on the spectrum are often described as being obsessed with a particular topic or subject, for example, space travel, buildings, certain types of music, transportation. Actually, being passionate about a topic shows an interest in learning. If you know what your student is passionate about, you can relate your lessons or subject in some way to his area of interest and your student will excel.
* Many students on the spectrum are overly sensitive to noise and crowds, making transition times between classrooms difficult. By allowing the student to arrive or leave a few minutes early or late, you will make it much easier for that student to arrive to class less stressed, and ready to focus on the lesson.

Students with Asperger's Syndrome or HFA are usually very bright and eager to learn. Hopefully these tips will help the year be a more productive one for you and your student.

Chantal Sicile-Kira is an advocate, award-winning author, and speaker known for her practical advice related to autism. Her latest book is A Full Life With Autism.

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