Educating Children With Asperger’s Syndrome

By: Delana H Stewart

One thing that can make educating children overseas especially challenging is having one or more children with special needs.  The challenge can children statuebe even more frustrating when you do not know why your child acts a certain way.  You know that he/she is different, but you are struggling to find an answer.  Though home schooling can often be the best way to meet the needs of children with particular special needs (since kids who don’t fall into the “norm” often fall through the cracks in a large group setting), it can be very difficult for the parents who are educating them.

Among many overseas organizations there are students with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, speech disorders, autism, Asperger Syndrome, and various other learning challenges (and physical challenges as well).  Recently, I read an article about Asperger Syndrome.  I found it intensely interesting and decided to research it further.  I hope that my findings will help those who may be parenting or home schooling a child with Asperger Syndrome.

According to Barbara Kirby (http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/aswhatisit.html) Asperger Syndrome is

a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. Some professionals feel that AS is the same as High Functioning Autism, while others feel that it is better described as a Nonverbal Learning Disability. AS shares many of the characteristics of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder; Not otherwise specified), HFA, and NLD and because it was virtually unknown until a few years ago, many individuals either received an incorrect diagnosis or remained undiagnosed.

Characteristics of people who have AS:

  • They have marked deficiencies in social skills.  They are limited in their ability to form friendships.  They may want to socialize and make friends, but they struggle to do so.  A child with AS may barge into games, interrupt, talk incessantly without listening, hover, have one-sided conversations, have difficulty taking turns.
  • They have difficulty with change and transitions—yet thrive on routine or sameness.  Changes to routine can be very stressful to them.
  • They are preoccupied with a particular subject of interest; AS people often have at least one obsession.  She resists tearing herself away from her passion.  He knows every statistic about his passion.  His knowledge in that area often impresses adults.  May be perceived as weird or geeks by their peers.
  • They have difficulty reading body language (non-verbal cues) and determining appropriate body space; poor non-verbal communication; may focus on the mouth or other part of the body rather than looking at the eyes of the person speaking.
  • They may be overly sensitive to one or more sensory items such as sounds, tastes, smells, or sights (i.e. prefer soft clothing or certain foods, bothered by certain sounds or lights that don’t bother others).  Close physical contact may make them feel uncomfortable at times.
  • They perceive the world differently—and have odd or unusual behaviors due to neurological differences.
  • They often have a normal or even high IQ.
  • They exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a particular area.
  • Their vocabulary is exceptionally rich (often use words that are beyond their years—may even be seen as a “little professor”).
  • They can be extremely literal in their use of language.  May miss the humor in a joke.
  • They have difficulty using language in a social context.
  • They have difficulty understanding other’s perspectives or feelings; may lack empathy.
  • They can be very untidy with their clothing and possessions; May have a clumsy gait or otherwise odd movements.
  • They may exhibit pedantic, repetitive speech.
  • They may exhibit naïve, inappropriate, or rather one-sided interaction.  If a subject interests them they may talk at great lengths about it (whether or not others are interested).  They may not know that the subject they are discussing is boring the listener.  They may have difficulty taking an interest in and listening to others.
  • They may struggle with self-esteem to such a point that they have outbursts of anger.  Also, may lack the spontaneous ability to share the details of something in a group setting (i.e. “show and tell”) even if it was exciting to them.  Or, may be so full of details that he bombards the listeners with minutia.

(These characteristics came from a variety of sources, many listing the same ones, with slightly different wording.  One of the sources is http://www.campmakebelievekids.com/AspergerSyndrome.htm)

Advantages:

There are advantages.  People with AS are often orderly thinkers and may have a creative ability to find different solutions.  Many websites include information about Bill Gates having AS.  Some even believe that Einstein exhibited the characteristics of AS.  Obsessive interest in certain fields–plus a strong determination to see something done properly–makes a good combination for certain jobs.

Does it sound like your child?

If you have further questions or concerns about AS, then check out some information online and consider having your child seen by a pediatric neurologist.

While many sources consider those with AS to be “differently-abled,” others would classify many cases as a disorder or “emotional” disability.  Several sources sited a strong connection of Asperger Syndrome with being INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale, though this is a theory that has not undergone adequate testing.

What can you as a parent/educator do?

Gill Bryant, who writes and distributes the EduCare newsletter, suggests the following things to help people who have AS—“to maximize the benefits and overcome the challenges” and to help them “learn to do the things that seem to come so naturally to those without AS.”

  • Teach them rules of conversation.
  • Work on motor skills; persist with the necessary tasks such as tying shoelaces, handling cutlery properly, producing legible handwriting, riding a bike etc. Someone with AS will never play for an international team in any ball game, but consistent work on catch and throw and hitting with a bat will produce all round improvement in motor skills. This should be done individually as the child may be acutely aware of their lack of ability and suffer accordingly when made to play in a team.

Tony Atwood in his excellent book (Asperger Syndrome) also suggests

  1. Walking and running to improve upper and lower limb coordination;
  2. Adventure playground and gymnasium equipment to help improve balance;
  3. Hands-on-hands teaching to help with manual dexterity;
  4. Learn keyboard skills;
  5. If rapid movements are a problem then supervise and encourage to slow the pace;
  6. For immature grip, movement disorders such as tics, odd postures, involuntary movement or similar, refer to a medical or occupational therapist;
  • All school staff and adults who know the child need to know about AS. This will enable them to manage situations properly. A child with AS needs to learn when to stop talking about their favorite themes, so it is up to the adults around to teach him or her. If a child asks more than two or three questions (or makes more than 2 or 3 statements) on a theme that the adult isn’t interested in, then they need to step in and divert the conversation. This can be openly explained to the child who will then have the same message reinforced from many angles. It also prevents the adults from feeling trapped by the child and possibly seeking to avoid such trapping another time.
  • Any classmates should also know about AS and that it makes things difficult for the person with it. There is now an excellent book geared to younger children given as one of the references.
  • Teach them to watch for body language. It doesn’t come naturally to someone with AS, so it needs to start with really obvious signals. One way to start is to use role-play and engage the child in conversation. When the inevitable happens and they begin to talk too much about their pet themes, the adult can give a huge and conspicuous yawn – and then ask the child what they think that means. From there, the child can be trained through role-play, to look for steadily more subtle signals such as fidgeting, occasional glances at the watch, looking around, monosyllabic responses, glazed expressions etc. It takes a long time, but with persistence and patience, many can learn to recognize this body language and cut the irrelevant discussion down. They can in fact learn to become quite sensitive – because they have had to take time to learn and have been deliberately trained to do so.
  • The children can be given role-play and model strategies for social behavior and language use. This may seem a bit artificial and robotic to someone without AS, but to a child learning to cope with a confusing world this is a necessary skill that they won’t just absorb – it has to be deliberately and actively taught.

See also on this blog: Recognizing Learning Disabilities.

Helping Students Be Overcomers.

 Here’s an excellent resource:

Asperger Experts Video Library

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Meet Carly–a girl with severe autism who learned to communicate via typing at the age of 11– http://carlysvoice.com/home/carly-in-the-media/

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Recommended Books:

Asperger’s Syndrome; Attwood

Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence; Teresa Bolick, PH.D.

Can I tell you about Asperger Syndrome; Welton

Succeeding in College with Asperger Syndrome; Harpur, Lawlor & Fitzgerald,

Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome; Luke Jackson,

Written by a teenager with AS and gives the “insider’s perspective”.

Freaks, Geeks, Asperger Syndrome (read this book online)

How to Support & Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum, Dave Sherratt, LDA

The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome by Patricia Romanowski Bashe, M.S.Ed., and Barbara L Kirby.

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Interesting Links:

http://www.templegrandin.com/

Online Video about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome http://noelpiper.com/2010/04/10/for-anyone-who-cares-about-someone-with-autism-or-aspergers/

Read about an excellent movie about Temple Grandin’s life dealing with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome: http://www.amazon.com/Temple-Grandin-Claire-Danes/dp/B0038M2AZA

 

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An interesting read on another WordPress blog is: http://littlechildren.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/aspergers-syndrome/

AND

http://bumblebeeflies.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/pathways-to-diagnosis/

A GREAT BOOK REVIEW OF A TEMPLE GRANDIN BOOK:

http://flappinessis.com/2011/12/15/book-review-the-way-i-see-it-by-temple-grandin/

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4 thoughts on “Educating Children With Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. Pingback: Special Needs or Just a Phase? | The Education Cafe

  2. Pingback: The Cafe has the Blues « The Education Cafe

  3. This is a really helpful resource for parents wanting to understand Aspergers. One key thing for parents is to know education law: a website called wrightslaw is very good for this.

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