Asperger Syndrome: Some Common Questions (page 2)

By — MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Updated on Sep 10, 2009

How do you get a school system to pay attention to a child with AS when his/her academic functioning is at least normal, and often advanced?

Many schools, when they look at differences or disabilities, expect you to be in a wheelchair, or intellectually disabled. What they can't conceptually grasp is a child who may be a wiz at math, computers, or whatever, but is socially odd. The first reaction is that it has something to do with the parents — that they obviously haven't raised the child properly, or something like that.

Often I become involved with the schools. After a child is diagnosed at the clinic, I will go to the school, especially high schools, and meet with them. I explain to the teachers what AS is, and how the child expresses the AS aspects, their ability profiles go through some of the heroes, some of the do's and don'ts. For example, sarcasm isn't going to work. You've got to make sure that the child understands the concepts you're talking about. When they do their homework, make sure they are on the right track. Just because he's not looking, is not to say he's not listening. He is very honest, and many of the children with AS will tell you your mistakes. So when he stands up in front of the class and says, "you've missed a comma there," he's not being rude, he's not showing off to his mates, he doesn't realize that you're not supposed to tell the teacher that they have made mistakes. Otherwise, the teachers will review the child as rude, inconsiderate, etc. I go to the schools to do that.

What we have in Australia is a movement by both parents and professionals. Between parents and professionals, they have campaigned for services for such children. The outcome has been that, not only do we have advisory visiting teachers for such children, but we have training programs for the teacher aids so that they can understand such kids.

The way we changed the schools was in part also spotting those AS kids, going into the school and supporting them, then the school staff would say "he's not the only one," and we work from there. We now have a "good school guide" and some parents will actually move so that their children can attend certain schools that have a history of doing well with these kids. So, first you have got to get the Education Department to understand in it's policy and it's training about AS, but you've also got to go through many aspects of working with many individual teachers as to what to do. Kids with AS either get on wonderfully, or atrociously, with their teachers. It's a disaster for both parties if you're not careful. You need to support the teachers, and help them understand. There are certain schools in Brisbane that have more than their fare share of kids with AS, because parents have voted with their feet and moved to that school district where the principal understands.

I say to the parents — you are an expert on your child, you are an expert on their personality and developmental history. Use your gut reaction to know whether that's an appropriate school. If your senses are uncomfortable, don't go! If you feel relaxed and comfortable, your child will probably be relaxed and comfortable in that environment. You need to work with the teachers. We do training programs for parents on how to relate to teachers. I also visit schools on a regular basis. The schools now are less ignorant, less fearful of such children, and there is a better structure for helping them. You will get that in time. However, at the moment, it does seem a bit down the track before you get that.

Should the child be placed in school based on their academic level, or their chronological level?

If he's say, grade 4 chronologically, but grade 8 academically - it depends on the individual child obviously - but generally I would say to place them with the grade 8 kids. Many of the kids with AS aren't there to socialize, they're there to learn. And, one of the things that they hate is other kids disrupting the classroom. But watch out for grade 8 though, because the kids at that level want only to give their teachers a nervous breakdown. You've got to chose their teachers wisely. If you say that if they have got to be with their peer group, you've got to look at each case individually, but you need some flexibility.

Actually, many of these kids have been home schooled, and gone on to university quite successfully. They don't appear to have suffered from the lack of social interaction as teenagers

How do you discipline a child with AS?

I tragically see a number of teachers saying "it's a matter of discipline!" Well, okay. Certainly having AS is not a license to do whatever you want to do, and there must be natural consequences. But my view is, with the child with AS, you must spend more time explaining what they did that was wrong, why it was wrong, what you are supposed to do, and how to know when you are supposed to do it.

Quite often, when the child is very emotional and upset, it is not a good time to explain this. When you've got emotion, you haven't got logic. Look at love. Love is never logical. The same with anger or distress. So, that may not be the time to explain consequences, etc. You may need to deal with the situation when the child is relaxed, possibly a couple of hours later. You say, okay let's learn from this. Let's go through what happened. Often what you find is a miscommunication or a misinterpretation by one or both parties. Both parties need to see the perspective of the other. But the time to do that may be when the person is reasonable, not emotional. We do drawing, pictures, Carol Gray's social stories, all those sorts of things to go through that process.

Often the child won't follow the rules unless they see a logical reason why, or if they see a value to themselves. And, if you talk about "people won't like you" - who cares? Or, "do it to please your teacher" - why should I please her? So what we have to use is, I'm afraid, a very mercenary approach. If you do this, this happens - if you do that, that happens. But it's very logical, it's almost like having a rule book. There are consequences for what you do, this is the logic.

If you start getting into complicated personal relationships, you've lost it. You have to be quite firm in the consequences with that individual, but you do need to spend time explaining things. For example, if we have a child who has hurt another child, or their brother or sister — we may say, "say sorry" and the person says "sorry," and as far as they are concerned, that's the end! If he's done something wrong, he must do, or donate, something to his sister for example — tidy his sister's room, or share a chocolate bar that he was going to have at lunch time, half each — in other words something is lost or given, or they lose their time for the person concerned. They could also make an apology card. They must actually do something tangible, rather than just "sorry," and that's it.

It does mean that you have to explain this to teachers, because they expect the kids to know. You've got to explain that in those circumstances, the child needs more explanation. I also explain to teachers, "don't use the degree of disruption as the measure of guilt." Although the AS child is the one who hit the hardest, he is not the only participant, and between them it was six of one, and half dozen of the other. Many AS kids hate the injustice - that they get all the blame, but the person who called them names gets no punishment. You need to deal with both parties in that situation.

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