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Supporting Appropriate Behavior in Students With Asperger Syndrome (page 2)

By — Autism Society
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Make teaching alternative skills an integral part of your program.

Students with Asperger’s should be taught acceptable behaviors that replace problematic behavior and that serve the same purpose as the challenging behavior. For example, a young child with Asperger’s may have trouble entering into a kick ball game and instead inserts himself into the game, thereby offending the other players and risking exclusion. Instead, the child can be coached on how and when to enter into the game. Never assume that a student knows appropriate social behaviors. While these students are quite gifted in many ways, they will need to be taught social and pragmatic communication skills as methodically as academic skills.

Self-management strategies also are important skills to teach. Self-management teaches people to discriminate their own target behavior and record the occurrence or absence of that target behavior (Koegel, Koegel & Parks, 1995). Self-management assists students in achieving greater levels of independent functioning across many settings and situations. Instead of teaching situation specific behaviors, self-management teaches a more general skill that can be applied in an unlimited number of settings. The procedure has particular relevance and immediate utility for students with Asperger’s who can be taught, for example, how to practice relaxation or how to find a place to regroup when upset.

Understand the characteristics of Asperger’s that may influence a student’s ability to learn and function in the school environment.

It is important to understand the idiosyncratic nature of Asperger’s and to consider problematic behaviors in light of characteristics associated with this disability. Following are some general characteristics as described by Williams (1995):

  • Insistence on sameness: easily overwhelmed by minimal changes in routines, sensitive to environmental stressors, preference for rituals.
  • Impairment in social interactions: difficulty understanding the “rules” of interaction, poor comprehension of jokes and metaphor, pedantic speaking style.
  • Restricted range of social competence: preoccupation with singular topics, asking repetitive questions, obsessively collecting items.
  • Inattention: poor organizational skills, easily distracted, focused on irrelevant stimuli, difficulty learning in group contexts.
  • Poor motor coordination: slow clerical speed, clumsy gait, unsuccessful in games involving motor skills.
  • Academic difficulties: restricted problem solving skills, literal thinking, deficiencies with abstract reasoning.
  • Emotional vulnerability: low self-esteem, easily overwhelmed, poor coping with stressors, self-critical.
  • Behavior serves a function, is related to context, and is a form of communication.

Effective behavioral support is contingent on understanding the student, the context in which he/she operates, and the reason(s) for behavior. In order to effectively adopt a functional behavioral assessment approach, several assumptions about behavior must be regarded as valid.

  • Behavior is functional. In other words, it serves a purpose(s). The purpose or function of the behavior may be highly idiosyncratic and understood only from the perspective of the individual. Individuals with Asperger’s generally do not have a behavioral intent to disrupt educational settings, but instead problematic behaviors may arise from other needs (self-protection in stressful situations).
  • Behavior has communicative value (if not specific intent). Individuals with Asperger’s experience pragmatic communication difficulties; while they are able to use language quite effectively to discuss high interest topics, they may have tremendous difficulty expressing sadness, anger, frustration and other important messages. As a result, behavior may be the most effective means to communicate when words fail. 
  • Behavior is context related. Understanding how features of a setting impact an individual (either positively or negatively) has particular value for adopting preventive efforts and sets the stage for teaching alternative skills.
  • Effective behavioral change may require all involved to change their behavior.

Since behaviors are influenced by context and by the quality of relationships with others, professionals and family members should monitor their own behavior when working with students with Asperger’s. Each time a teacher reprimands a student for misbehavior, an opportunity may be lost to reframe the moment in terms of the student’s need to develop alternative skills.

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