What is Asperger Syndrome? Methods to support AS students
Here are some hints that should help you deal with students with Asperger. First and quite obvious tip is to liaise with their parents. They are the ones who know their child best and they will give you important information about their child’s behaviors. Starting from this you can then propose in agreement with the parents some activities and routines that will help their child. Having a meeting at the beginning of the school year is therefore crucial but you will have to keep in touch with them during the whole year to discuss any challenges and progress.
Once you have a better idea of what this child will need then you will have to adapt the learning environment for a better learning. The physical and verbal aspects of the classroom have to be adapted. I would suggest a seating plan where the child with Asperger would be next to a quiet helpful student. Remember that any child has to be included so even if he or she has some difficulties with social behaviors and social commonly agreed rules he or she needs to be taught how to deal with that in a classroom. Don’t isolate the AS students but provide them with a clear defined space to organize themselves and avoid any source of stress. Students with Asperger are the main targets for bullying so keep them away as far as you can from troublemakers to avoid any burst or meltdown.
Educate their peers. Children will notice that students with AS don’t interact the same way as they do. It is extremely difficult for students with AS to build friendship and therefore they may quickly be isolated. It’s our role as teachers to explain what the Asperger Syndrome is about. You don’t have to explain things in details but you need to raise students’ awareness about the syndrome. Some researches tend to show that children who have been explained the behaviors of students with AS are more likely o show a positive attitude towards them and a greater understanding.
Use visual support in your room in clear strategic places- board, door, desk. Use your room as a giant reminder for students with Asperger. Stick the planned activities on the board. Tick once the activities have been completed. Students with AS usually respond well to visual support. Have also ready-made cards for the students where their feelings and emotions are expressed. For example: “I don’t feel good now because I don’t understand what to do.” The student can show you the card so that you know you will have to make the activity clearer.
Be ready to accommodate the time and space for them. Children with AS will need more time to complete activities because for example writing is a fine-motor skill and it’s a complex skill to acquire for students with Asperger Syndrome but it doesn’t mean they don’t have to be challenged. Their organization skills are usually low as well so try to help them by providing them the material they will need in advance, at the beginning of the lesson. You will need to be twice as much organized as you usually are.
Students with AS need very short and clear instructions expressed in a calm voice. Avoid multiple instructions as they may be lost. Your instructions have to be sharp and repeated. Use a low pace and keep your calm whatever the situation. Students with Asperger will struggle explaining that they don’t understand and this may turn into frustration. Once the group is on task take the time to sit next to the student with AS and ensure he is on task. Remember as well that facial expressions and eye contact don’t make sense to them so you will have to interact verbally to give directions and to praise their work. Behaviors of AS students can be quite unpredictable and seen as completely inadapted to the situation. Tantrums and meltdowns can be frequent but they are manageable. Be ready for that. Parents and colleagues are your best allies here as they know what will work for these children. Understanding a source of stress or frustration and then finding collaborative strategies should prevent many of these situations.