So you’re teaching a child with Asperger’s Syndrome?!
The first thing to remember is not to panic! Although children with Asperger’s Syndrome have certain needs which you will soon discover, there are also many positive aspects to consider (see article on Asperger’s Syndrome). When children with Asperger’s Syndrome are interested in a topic area, they will often make very committed, enthusiastic and conscientious learners. Indeed they will often keep you on your toes as a teacher with their keen eye for detail in a subject of interest to them. Here are some tips to help you…
- The main thing you should try to ensure is consistency, structure and routine. Where you know that there will be a change to the routine, you should always give a pupil with Asperger’s Syndrome as much warning as possible and consider the possible implications for them (e.g. if you need to move to another room to use the computers, tell the class the period before and consider having a classroom assistant (if available) help the pupil with Asperger’s Syndrome find their way to the new classroom).
- The need for structure is important, but often pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome will struggle to organise themselves. You should create a list of tasks to be done, breaking larger tasks into more manageable chunks. Ensure that homework is noted carefully by older pupils, or consider emailing homework details to the pupil (to access later at home).
- Try to include lots of visual learning in your lesson. A visual timetable can also be very helpful for a pupil with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- It is important to remember that many of these pupils live with a very high level of anxiety. Managing behaviour requires defusing this. Human and gentle coaxing can work well. Here there is nothing better than getting to know your pupil: you will quickly learn what the pupil with Asperger’s Syndrome finds especially stressful. Asperger’s Syndrome is often accompanied by sensory processing difficulties, so children may experience particular sensitivity to loud noises, unexpected noises, bright lights etc.
- Consider teaching the rest of the class to understand the child’s difficulties. A worksheet for primary schools and a fact sheet for post-primary pupils is available from the National Autistic Society. This should be done in collaboration with the pupil and parents. There are some parents who still prefer not to have their child’s peers know about Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Consider how you speak to the child; do they understand what I am saying? do I need to give more information? am I explaining things clearly enough?
- Try to ensure you only give information/instructions when you are giving him/her your full attention and they are listening; don’t shout instructions across the class or give them when the child is doing something else too. Don’t change the instruction half way through. Make sure that homework instructions are not shouted out at the end of the lesson as the bell rings and pupils are packing up to leave. This works for no-one, but least of all for pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- If you find you are regularly giving the same information, you could write it down and then refer the pupil to the list each time he/she asks.
- Don’t use ambiguous terms. Words like ‘silly’ and ‘naughty’ don’t mean anything to many pupils with Asperger’s.
- Avoid needless use of idioms. Telling a pupil to pull their socks up, for instance, will often lead to them literally pulling their socks up. Children with ASD will have to learn idioms individually, and this can take time.
- Realise that when the pupil says something strange or improperly personal etc. that he/she is not doing this deliberately, he/she just does not understand the rules of conversation.You may need to deliberately teach this. Role play can teach pupils how to react when they meet someone.
- If a pupil is doing something wrong, tell him/her what they should be doing instead, e.g. Stop banging that ruler; you should be writing.
- Pupils with Asperger’s have a need for structure in their lives so provide ways of structuring break times etc. for them, e.g. provide crossword puzzles, a quiet area in school for them to read or arrange for them to have a walk around the school grounds with a ‘buddy’. Anything unusual that is going to happen should be explained to the pupil in advance.
- Sometimes pupils with Asperger’s have a history of lashing out and hurting other children even when unprovoked. This can make integration, particularly at play times, very difficult and it may be that he/she will need to be supervised by a classroom assistant. The child must be told that if he behaves unacceptably he or she will be taken away from the other children. However, it is essential that the classroom assistant is sensitive enough to know when to intervene and when to let ‘natural’ play occur. A classroom assistant could provide a structured programme of activities for all the children under her supervision. By having a routine game for each day, the child with Asperger’s will feel more confident. He may feel more included if he/she gets a say in who plays the game.This is positive because play is supervised and a circle of friends is created. The child gets some recognition and some of the chosen friends will become friends for the child to play with later on when the scheme is phased out day by day.
- Avoid sarcasm and humour: pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome will often fail to understand either.
- Where possible allow opportunities for the pupil to explore and exploit their special interests. Where this coincides with your subject, allow the pupil the chance to talk or present about their interest. They will most likely have a very detailed understanding. Ensure however that this is timebound (an egg timer may work here) as people with Asperger’s Syndrome can talk at great length with little awareness of others’ waning interest.
- Pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome often find navigating a large building (e.g. a secondary school) very difficult. If there is no classroom assistant to help, consider giving them a map which could be colour coded.
- Homework can create a lot of stress for pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome who will often want to spend hours on work which is not intended to last that long. In consultation with parents, it is useful to set limits, for instance 20 minutes per homework.
- Finally, enjoy the experience of teaching pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome. Although there can be challenging moments, there are also many rewards!
The Australian Scale for Aspergers Syndrome extract from ASPERGER’S SYNDROME A GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND PROFESSIONALS Tony Attwood, PhD