Throughout my time working in Mainstream Education, my specialism was always Autism and its many traits.
For one Ofsted observation, at the school I was then working at as a Special Needs Manager, I created a series of leaflets for the departments, about various SEN barriers children may have.
The details below relate to supporting a child with Aspergers.
There is still uncertainty about the causes of Asperger’s Syndrome but research suggest that its characteristics are brought about by a serious of neuro-biological triggers which affect brain development. There is no cure but children can be taught how to understand and manage their symptoms in ways that allow them to integrate socially (to varying degrees) and cope with the mainstream school environment. Individuals can be very able in some respects and often excel in learning facts and figures; thinking in abstract and imaginative ways can be difficult for them. Teachers, therefore, need to be aware of this trait
Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are at the higher ability end of the Autistic Spectrum and have some distictive characteristics. Learning needs can range from mild to severe. In common with other ASD learners they tend to have significant difficulties with communication and social skills, missing the non-verbal information given by body language and facial expression, and are often unable to enter into the turn taking of conversation. Sometimes obsessive about a particular topic, they will talk at length about this area of interest, at every opportunity, but avoid eye contact with those who try to engage with them.
Routines are extremely important to anyone with Asperger’s Syndrome and adaptng to change presents huge challenges to them. These characteristics often result in a child seeming very ‘odd’ or eccentric and this can make them a target to bullying. In some individuals frustration and anxiety can result in angry outbursts, so teaching anger management techniques to these children can be an effective way of helping them to cope.
It is important to remember that many of these children live with a very high level of anxiety. Managing behaviour requires defusing this. Humane and gentle coaxing can work well.
Here are some strategies:
- Consider how you speak to the child; do they understand what you are saying? Do you need to give more information
- Try to ensure that you only give information / instructions when you are giving the child your full attention and they are listening.
- Do not shout across the room to give instructions when the child is doing something else.
- Do not change the instructions halfway through
- If you are regularly giving the same information you could write it down and then refer the pupil to the list each time he/she asks
- Do not use abiguous words or terms. Words like ‘silly’ and ‘naughty’ do not mean anything to a child with aspergers.
- If a child is doing something wrong, tell him/her what they should be doing instead.
- Children with aspergers have a need for structure in their lives.
- Anything unusual that is going to happen, for example a change in daily routine or person, should be explained to the child in advance. Important as school if they are having a change of teacher or lesson.
- Have high expectations of the child as some have exceptional abilities.
- Be flexible especially in accepting and responding to ‘odd’ behaviour.
- Stay calm and avoid shouting.
- Have a clear structure for the child’s day.
- Use visual aids such as a visual timetable and a homework diary.
- Allow the child to sit at the end of a table or row, or on his/her won to preserve personal space.
- Look out for sensory sensitivity (eg bright lights, noise, textures, touch and smells.) This could be an issues in DT, Science, Cooking, Swimming and Art.
- Be precise with instructions. I.e. ‘Stop working now please and look at me.’ instead of ‘Shall we take a break now?’
- Explain metaphors and any fugurative language you use – telling a child with Asperger’s to ‘pull your socks up’ may well result in a literal interpetation.
- Build computer access into as many lessons as possible, they provide a break from the demands of social interaction and often enable a child to excel.
- Reward effort and achievement as you would for any child, but with Aspergers Syndrome whose ‘oddness’ may mean that he/she is less popular than others, he/she needs to develop their confidence and self esteem.