Tips for Teaching High-Functioning People with Autism

By — MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

People with autism have trouble with organizational skills, regardless of their intelligence and/or age. Even a "straight A" student with autism who has a photographic memory can be incapable of remembering to bring a pencil to class or of remembering a deadline for an assignment. In such cases, aid should be provided in the least restrictive way possible. Strategies could include having a student put a picture of a pencil on the cover of his notebook or reminders at the end of the day of assignments to be completed at home. Always praise the student when he remembers something he has previously forgotten. Never denigrate or "harp" at him when he fails. A lecture on the subject will not only NOT help, it will often make the problem worse. He may begin to believe he can't remember to do or bring these things.

These students seem to have either the neatest or the messiest desks or lockers in the school. The one with the neatest desk or locker is probably very insistent on sameness and will be very upset if someone disturbs the order he has created. The one with the messiest desk will need your help in frequent cleanups of the desk or locker so that he may find things. Simply remember that he is probably not making a conscious choice to be messy, he is most likely incapable of this organizational task without specific training. Train him in organizational skills using small, specific steps. 

  1. People with autism have problems with abstract and conceptual thinking. Some may eventually acquire a few abstract skills, but others never will. Avoid abstract ideas when possible. When abstract concepts must be used, use visual cues, such as gestures, or written words to augment the abstract idea. 
  2. An increase in unusual or difficult behaviors probably indicate an increase in stress. Sometimes stress is caused by feeling a loss of control. When this occurs, the "safe place" or "safe person" may come in handy, because many times the stress will only be alleviated when the student physically removes himself from the stressful event or situation. If this occurs, a program should be set up to assist the student in re-entering and/or staying in the stressful situation. 
  3. Don't take misbehavior personally. The high-functioning person with autism is not a manipulative, scheming person who is trying to make life difficult. Usually misbehavior is the result of efforts to survive experiences which may be confusing, disorienting, or frightening. People with autism are, by virtue of their handicap, egocentric and have extreme difficulty reading the reactions of others. They are incapable of being manipulative
  4. Most high-functioning people with autism use and interpret speech literally. Until you know the capabilities of the individual, you should avoid: 
  • Idioms (save your breath, jump the gun, second thoughts, etc.)
  • Double meanings (most jokes have double meanings)
  • Sarcasm, such as saying, "Great!" after he has just spilled a bottle of ketchup on the table.
  • Nicknames
  • "Cute" names, such as Pal, Buddy, Wise Guy, etc.
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