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Teaching Difficult Students with Aspergers

Having spent nearly 20 years working with adolescent students who had emotional and /or behavioral disorders, some of the most complex students I worked with were those who had Aspergers.

Aspergers is a neurobiological disorder which is part of the autism spectrum. Most kids and adolescents who are diagnosed with Aspergers are usually very verbal and demonstrate average to above-average IQs.

Aspergers is diagnosed through examining atypical patterns of behavior, activities and interests. Aspergers may affect behavior, senses, and vision and hearing systems. Often kids and adolescents with Aspergers fixate on a single subject or activity (e.g., a youngster may only want to learn about trains).

Students with Aspergers have extreme difficulty with breaks in routine and transitions. They also have very poor social interactions. Most kids and adolescents with Aspergers with demonstrate repetitive movements and sensitivity to light, sound smell and/or touch.

Until recently, it is believed Aspergers was under-diagnosed. This is because many professionals and adults learned to compensate for Aspergers and used their fixations to their advantage.

In a classroom setting, Aspergers may manifest in behaviors which include, but are not limited to:

• Average to excellent memorization skills - may excel in areas such as math or spelling
• Clumsy walk
• Conversations and activities only center around themselves
• Inability to usually socially appropriate tone and/or volume of speech
• Lack of common sense and/or “street smarts”
• Lack of empathy for others
• Lack of facial expressions
• May be teased, bullied or isolated by peers
• Often very verbal
• Poor eye contact
• Talking about only one subject/topic and missing the cues that others are bored

If you have a student in class who has Aspergers, here are some ideas for assisting them:

• Develop a structured classroom with routines - write down the daily routine for the student
• Give the student an outlet for their fixation - For example: if a student finishes and assignment you require for class, allow them to turn work on the topic of their choice for extra credit.
• If/When the student becomes overwhelmed with frustration and experiences a "meltdown", remain calm and use a normal tone of voice to help the student deal with the stress
• Teach appropriate social interactions. Show the student how their words and actions impact others
• Team with moms/dads and other professionals to develop strategies
• Work with other students to develop an environment of tolerance and acceptance for the student with Aspergers

Frustration is a concern for all adolescents, but is multiplied in students experiencing Aspergers. It may be helpful, to get permission to speak with any mental health practitioners who are involved with the youngster. These professionals can help you gain a better understanding of the disorder, and work with you to develop effective interventions for the student in you classroom. Work with them and families to learn the warning signs that a student is being overcome with frustration and about to experience a "melt down". In turn, you provide to the mental health professional beneficial insight into how the youngster acts in and academic setting, which can help the professional treat the youngster in a more holistic manner.

Chat With A Therapist

Feel free to post a comment or question in the chat room below. For information regarding psychiatric medication, please address your question to David McLaughlin, MD (Consultant: Psychiatry). For information regarding psychiatric testing, please address your question to Julie Kennedy, Psy.D (Consultant: Clinical Psychology). For all other questions, please address Mark Hutten, M.A. (Counseling Psychology). Someone will respond to your inquiry within 12 to 24 hours.

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