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.
What is the Asperger Syndrome?
When you have a student with Asperger Syndrome in your class it does change the way you teach. I was confronted to this only once but it really had an impact on my teaching on the long term and on my practice awareness. If you have one student with Asperger Syndrome remember that yes he or she is different in certain ways, but as any other students!
However students with Asperger Syndrome will require specific teaching strategies so that they can unlock their potential. We need as teachers to be aware that the Asperger Syndrome will present some important challenges not only for us but also for the student and for the group. If you don’t know what the Asperger Syndrome is you may not even notice it, as students with this syndrome will tend to act and look much like their mates. Don’t blame yourself but ask your colleagues and they will you give tips to handle the situation.
Most students with the Asperger Syndrome tend to perform well academically and they often surpass their peers. Students with Autism on the contrary have a range of intellectual functioning to below to above-normal. Despite their usually good performances we need to keep in mind that students with Asperger have a disorder, which makes it difficult for them to work in a classroom where adapted teaching strategies haven’t been put in place.
Well. What is the Asperger Syndrome? It’s a neurological disorder that affects people. Children and adults suffering from this find it hard to control their behaviors. It is a complex disability that affects communication, ability to socialize, sensation and cognitive skills. What makes it even more complex to diagnose is that it can differ from one person to the other. Some will have an almost obsessive rapport with some topics or objects, others will find it hard to understand social concepts and language styles, some others will have the tendency to repeat movements or words -echolalia- and some will struggle with new things that differ from their routines. The characteristics of the Asperger Syndrome are numerous and the above list is far from being exhaustive.
Students with this syndrome will generally find it hard to organize themselves and decide what is important and what is not. Their social awareness is different from what we know and therefore they may offend people without realizing it, they also find it hard to engage in conversations, they struggle with adapting to social rules. Most of them have difficulties interacting with others and many things can be a source of stress for them. For example some may need a routine to reassure them and any unplanned event can be a source of anxiety. The way these children and adults behave can be seen by some as disobedience or defiance but this is not the case, this is all part of the Asperger Syndrome.
Nowadays more and more children are diagnosed with this syndrome. I personally believe that there is also a huge confusion between students with Asperger, students with Autism, students with ADHD -Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, students with BESD – Behavioural, Emotional, Social Difficulties or students who simply misbehave. If in doubt use your professional judgment but also refer to the Special Education Needs department of your school.
Teaching gifted students can be both exciting and frustrating. Our gifted children have the ability to grasp, organize and apply abstract concepts quickly and more efficiently than other students which often leave teachers a little bit perplex about what to do with them. In a previous article I wrote about some blunders to avoid when teaching these students, here are some strategies you might find useful.
The most obvious strategy is to engage your gifted students into an independent project where they will be able to explore new things and use their creativity. Instead of giving extra worksheets to your gifted students have them to use their extra time into something that genuinely interest them and that can or cannot be related to the topic studied in class.
In terms of projects what we call “vertical enrichment activities” are projects or assignments related to the topic studied in the classroom but that go beyond the mere curriculum. These types of activities are aimed at challenging students in a range of subjects while enhancing their thinking skills.
High achieving students and gifted ones don’t often have the opportunity to compare themselves to others so having them involved in some kind of academic competition can be fruitful. It could be a reading challenge, a Math challenge, a Technology challenge, or a general knowledge quiz. Whatever the project these events can be highly motivating for gifted students.
As I wrote in a previous article, using gifted students as a tutors for less able ones is not such a good idea. We tend to believe that pairing gifted students with low attainders can be profitable for both but it’s rarely the case. Instead talk to your colleagues, contact organizations that deal with gifted students, find mentors for your gifted students, meet their parents and work hand in hand with them. Gifted students need tutors as well. It’s not because they are gifted that they are here to be teachers’ helpers.
Using technology is also great to help our gifted students so that they can reach their true potential. Through the use of technology, students can explore their abilities and find ways to work more independently. It is worth mentioning as well that they can build projects with other gifted students to go beyond what they already know.
Implementing leveling assignments can also be good. When using these you can use the same type of material and assess all your students on the same topics but the questions that you will use and the projects you will ask your gifted students to create will differ slightly to ensure that they are pushed enough.
Finally I would highly recommend some readings from Piaget and the Bloom’s taxonomy so that you familiarize yourself with some more techniques and ideas to pitch your lessons to the right level for these students.
As teachers we usually know quickly which students will need more support and which students will need more challenging tasks. The best way to ensure that we provide challenging material to our gifted students is to start the year with the conduction of whole class assessments. You could for example provide an assessment with different progressive stages according to the difficulty. If in the last part of the test that is supposed to most difficult some students achieve 80% or higher, then you know that these students should be given more complex tasks that will structure their thinking skills. You could for example suggest some independent projects with challenging topics related to the curriculum or you could ask these students to prepare a lesson to teach by themselves.
When you teach gifted students you need to remember that you are making special arrangements for these students. It doesn’t mean necessarily that you will create a completely different curriculum for them but it means that you will have to adapt your teaching style and resources for the benefit of your gifted students. This is what you will need to explain to their parents, which can be uneasy. I usually find that gifted children’s parents are quite worried and that they are not always sure that teachers make everything they can to improve their children’s learning. I suggest on that delicate point to offer to work collaboratively with them. They know best what their child needs so let’s make sure that you create a good rapport with them. They will understand that you won’t have time to prepare a whole syllabus for every single child but they will happy to hear that you are ready to help them unlock their children’s potential.
I remember that when I first had to face the challenge of teaching gifted students I didn’t quite know what to do but having myself suffered from all the frustration and boredom when I was at school there were some mistakes I could avoid.
The first blunder that I still often observe in lessons is that teachers give more work to gifted students. That’s counterproductive. Of course you give extension tasks to your gifted students but these tasks have to be meaningful and challenging. Instead of wasting their time completing more tasks, gifted students should spend their extra time developing their existing knowledge or exploring different ways of learning.
Another common mistake when teaching gifted students is to pair them up with struggling students. Apart if you have really kind and generous gifted students willing to help others remember that most gifted students are rather rebellious and the experience is often a disaster. How many times have I observed gifted students losing their temper and motivation because they were supposed to act as tutors for less able ones?
Last but not least don’t force them. Gifted children have needs and they know that their likes and needs are different from others. So instead of giving them tasks that they must do, give them opportunities to develop, to learn and to surpass themselves. Don’t assume that because they are gifted they don’t want to develop even more.
We spend a lot of time as teachers planning lessons, ensuring that we cover the curriculum. We also juggle with target settings, target reviews, reports, parents’ evenings and behavior management. Why am I writing about behavior management will you say? Isn’t it about teaching gifted students? You’re right. But it’s actually about both, as you will generally find out that if you feed your gifted students with the challenges they need then some of your classroom behavior issues will disappear as by magic.
How do we recognize gifted children?
From a teacher’s perspective a gifted child is hard work, as these children need constant redirection. When you give them a task to achieve it usually takes them no more than 5 minutes to complete it while other students will probably need 10 minutes. Students who are intellectually gifted will present a set of common features like the ability to think in an abstract way at an early age, the need for constant intellectual stimulation, an ability to grasp complex information within minutes and a true desire to explore things in depth. No doubt that these children can easily be bored and frustrated. Even if the word gifted didn’t exist while I was at school I think I would probably today fall into that category. Yes, it’s true that your parents are proud of your academic results but in terms of behavior that’s another story. I remember that once I had decided that a subject was worth the interest I would put all my energy to study it, which gave some more homework for my teachers who had to correct my personal projects. Not to mention that I was a headache for all the teachers who couldn’t provide me with enough challenge. The only way I had back then to avoid distracting my peers because of my own boredom was to be given either a book to read or essays to write which I absolutely loved. Can you just imagine the frustration when you know that you can deal with a topic better than your friends but that you will have to stay the whole hour listening to endless repetition and games? Well, then imagine yourself stuck at the photocopier while you know that you can achieve much more? That’s what gifted children feel: Frustration, boredom, isolation and angriness every single day.
With gifted students we need to go beyond the curriculum. Have them to feel responsible for their own independent learning and try to use every opportunity to push these students. You will not harm them by giving them more opportunity for learning! Far from it. That’s what they want and need even if they will pretend the contrary. What may be difficult when you have gifted students is that one activity won’t necessarily work for all your gifted students. Gifted students are good at thinking so train them towards that direction; give them the tool they deserve to perform to the best of their abilities. Think out of the box; try to be creative. If you have gifted students and you’re not quite sure how to handle them try to find out in your school who’s in charge of the gifted and talented students. In most schools now there should be someone in charge who will be quite helpful to help you with these students.
Teaching children can be extremely rewarding and you can see huge improvements quickly, which is what we look for as teachers. However there are some steps to follow to make your lessons successful with children as teaching little ones requires patience, energy and creativity.
As we know children are full of energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. At a young age children are also more sensitive to language learning and they are like sponges. To keep them interested and motivated in your lessons you will have to be enthusiastic as well and bring a wide range of ideas in your lessons. Your lessons need to be varied and fun for the benefit of the little ones.
When teaching children we also need to understand their psychology and what they can or can’t do. Things that are common sense to us will be completely unknown to children. For example they do no quantify the time the same way we do, they use their imagination broadly and can attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects – it’s not uncommon to see children speaking with their toys. Children are not ready either to take others’ point of view into consideration and their logical thought will seem illogical to us! However they can already classify objects according to their colors or shapes and they can also use some memory skills and language learning is what takes most of their attention. These types of information are invaluable clues that will help our planning.
Once we know this and that children have an attention span of 5 minutes it’s up to us to create the activities that will shape their learning. Games, stories, kinesthetic activities, use of toys and authentic material like songs and videos, flashcards and cooking utensils will be some of the tools that you will use to keep them motivated and inspired.
There are plenty of ways to keep them motivated as long as the activities are short and as long as they can manage to do them. Speak to them in English ALL the time, and illustrate what you are saying through use of visuals, drawings, videos or flashcards. You can also use a puppet to help you in your teaching. Most of the time you will find out that your students are capable to understand you and their learning environment but that they can’t respond to it. Well, it doesn’t matter as long as they are immersed into the language and as long as they repeat the structures over and over again. Repetition and having fun are the two key elements to ensure that your students will enjoy and learn the language. It goes without saying that teaching children can be quite physical so it may be good to feel ready for all the running, singing, hopping, jumping, dancing that will compose your lessons!
So, yes you will be probably exhausted some days but you won’t have to go to the gym to stay fit and the simple fact that children are so open to a new language, the fact that they are ready to do any kind of activities will just make your day.
Another point to consider when teaching children is their parents! Parents of young children are usually quite demanding and that’s great as it shows their interest in their children’s education but you need also to feel ready to answer some questions about your objectives as a teacher, the targets and progress of their children, the syllabus etc. Teaching languages has to be fun. Nonetheless there is a syllabus to follow and children will also have to understand that learning is not all about games and having fun. Teaching and having fun is great but we also need to be reminded to teach life-skills and this starts at a very young age too.