Strategies to Help Students with Asperger Syndrome in School (page 3)
For most students with Asperger Syndrome (AS), school demands tax many of the areas in which they have difficulty. Therefore, the majority of students with AS are anxious. Initial supports typically focus on making certain accommodations for the student in an effort to keep his/her anxiety level manageable. The following strategies may be helpful for individuals with AS to succeed in school.
Managing the Environment
Students with AS often do not have the organizational and planning skills that help them navigate through their day successfully. They don’t inherently understand routines, how to handle changes in their environment or predict what can happen next. This inability or difficulty in managing their environment causes stress and anxiety, which results in lower academic and social performance, decreased attention to task and potential increases in behavior problems. To help them manage, educators should establish and teach students routines for all activities that occur consistently in school. For example, the student needs to know when and how he can sharpen his pencil, where to turn in homework, how his books should be arranged in a desk or locker, what books should be taken to which class and when to go to his locker, etc.
Routines that Need to be Directly Taught to Students with AS:
- How to ask for help
- When and what to throw away and where
- How to ask to go to the bathroom
- How to obtain school supplies when they forget to bring them to class
- How and when to hand in homework
- How to make up missed work due to absences or related reasons
- How to line up for lunch and recess
- What to do during free time
- How to navigate lunchtime
Preparing for Change
The student with AS has to continually sort through, process and integrate what he is to do each day even if there are no schedule changes. Therefore, any changes, in particular unexpected changes, no matter how small they seem to others, can increase anxiety. When possible, the teacher should provide consistency in the schedule and avoid sudden changes.
When a change is going to occur, the teacher should prepare the child by discussing it in advance; creating a social narrative, such as a Social StoryTM (Gray, 2000) on the change; or showing a picture of the change. For example, it is unwise to rearrange classroom furniture or change seating assignments without introducing it ahead of time to the child with AS. The introduction may include reviewing a picture of what the rearranged classroom will look like.
A visual schedule (see below) that incorporates the student’s activities is also helpful. At the bottom of the schedule, an icon can be included with the words “Sometimes the Schedule Changes.” This may be used to introduce a specific change.
Tuesday, May 16, 2009
Homework 8:00 - 8:30
Language Arts 8:45 -9:45
Math 10:00 - 11:00
Science 11:15 - 12:00
Social Studies 12:15 - 1:15
Computer Science 1:30 - 2:30
French 2:30 - 3:30
*Sometimes the Schedule Changes*
In addition, the student should be reminded daily that changes can occur and that they can be managed. This may be done by using a “change in routine card” as follows.
Change in Routine Card
Notice: ______________________________________________ will change on ______________________________________________________________
When planning activities, the teacher should make the student aware that the activities are planned, not guaranteed; that is, activities can be changed, cancelled or rescheduled. In addition, it’s helpful to create and share back-up plans.
When an unavoidable situation occurs, educators should be flexible, recognize that change is stressful, and adapt expectations and language accordingly. For example, a teacher could state, “Our class is scheduled to go to the park tomorrow. If it rains, you can read your favorite book on dinosaurs.”
Building in Time to Regroup
Making time for students to regroup is particularly important when novel activities are introduced. Students with AS need a break from the stressors of the classroom. Because these students have difficulty calming themselves when they become anxious, downtime or removal to a safe place or home base can be effective ways to manage the environment.
Home base or a safe place is an identified location within the classroom or another place in the school where the student can go to calm down and regroup. This is meant to be a positive intervention, in which the goal is for the student to eventually be able to recognize when he is overwhelmed and be able to remove himself from the situation, self-calm and return to class—ready to work. This is not to be confused with time-out.
In many instances the student is unable to recognize when he is becoming overwhelmed. Therefore, it is important for school personnel to become aware of the student’s stress signals, so they can prompt him to go to home base.
Strategies such as the Incredible 5-Point Scale (Buron & Curtis, 2004), techniques from The Eclipse Model (Moyer, 2009) or Outsmarting Explosive Behavior (Endow, 2009), and simple relaxation techniques can be helpful tools, along with home base, for teaching the student how to recognize and communicate the magnitude of his distress, and learn ways to self-calm and possibly prevent his behavior from escalating.
Buron, K.D., & Curtis, M. (2004). The Incredible 5-Point Scale. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC.
Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC.
Gray, C. (2000). The New Social Storybook: Illustrated Edition. Arlington, TX:
Moyer, S. (2009). The ECLIPSE Model: Self-Regulation, Executive Function Skills, Attribution Retraining, and Sensory Awareness for Young People with Asperger Syndrome and Related Disabilities. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC.
Myles, B.S., Adreon, D., & Gitlitz, D. (2006). Simple Strategies that Work! Helpful Hints to all Educators of Students with Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism, and Related Disabilities. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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