Teaching a Student with Asperger Syndrome

Ms. R, this is Adam, he will be coming to your class for social skills from now on.” I remember my principal telling me years ago while introducing me to Adam. Adam has Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Most people with Asperger’s are considered high-functioning autistics. Adam was definitely a one-of-a-kind student, and like many people with Asperger Syndrome, needed some help with everyday social skills. I was a behavior-disorder teacher in a middle school and teaching social skills was one of my specialties.

Adam looked around the room, from behind his large glasses and promptly said, “Umm, Ms. R, social skills isn’t really an academic class. Math is an academic class and I am quite good at it.” He then proceeded to sit down and continuously play with his mechanical pencil, spinning it over and over on his desk.

People living with Asperger’s have problems with social interaction. For example, Adam never quite understood why it wasn’t appropriate to draw sexually explicit pictures and pass them around the lunchroom. He really didn’t understand what was wrong with that. With most 6th grade boys, you could talk to them about why it is socially wrong, give them a consequence and the issue is over. With Adam, you could try to explain yourself until you were blue in the face and get nowhere. Because of his Asperger’s, Adam sees the world very differently than others. Therefore, it was very hard to explain to him why something was inappropriate

It is possible to teach social skills to people with Asperger’s. It is just a little more difficult to do so. They can learn what is wrong and what is right in social situations. They may never fully understand the reasoning behind why it is inappropriate to do something, but they can learn not to do it. That was one of the reasons Adam came into my classroom for social skills. What worked best with Adam when he did something inappropriate was to just simply state that whatever he was doing was not okay. If I got into any type of long explanation as to why it wasn’t okay, he wouldn’t understand.

Transitioning can be difficult for a person with Asperger’s. Any type of change, without being prepared for it, can cause major disruptions in his or her day. With Adam, I had to warn him several days in advance that there would be a tornado drill or a fire drill on a certain day. If he knew it was coming, he was prepared and it made for a much easier transition back to class. If Adam was suddenly thrown something unexpected, it could cause him to shut down and refuse to work. The more prepared, the better.

People living with Asperger’s often times have obsessive routines that they follow, or are preoccupied with a certain object. In Adam’s case, at the beginning of every class, he would have to line up his mechanical pencils in a certain order. He couldn’t begin working until this was taken care of. Once his pencils were lined up, he would then focus on what lesson I was teaching.

Like many people with Asperger’s Adam was also sensitive to sounds and the way something feels. Many times, in order to shut out sounds from the hallway, Adam would wear headphones when trying to study. If you notice in this article, I have stated that Adam always had mechanical pencils. He only used mechanical pencils because he did not like the way the wood pencils felt in his hand. Some people with this disorder do not like the way certain materials feel on their skin.

Adam’s vocabulary was incredibly large for a 6th grader. He also understood more sophisticated humor than the rest of his peers. I always knew that I could crack a joke during my lesson, and while my other students may not get it, I knew that I could count on Adam for a chuckle! It is typical for someone living with Asperger’s to have a large vocabulary. Children with Asperger’s often are considered “Little Professors” because of his or her large vocabularies. I know that anyone who came in contact with Adam certainly believed he was one!

Many children with Asperger’s are often bullied and teased because he or she are considered odd by their peers. This is unfortunate, especially to the child. One of the best things a teacher can do is to educate his or her class about Asperger’s. In Adam’s case, the other students had known him for most of his life. He had always been in a general education classroom, but received extra assistance from the special education teacher. The children in his class knew about Asperger’s. Adam’s mom had seen to it that everyone who worked with Adam, or who interacted with Adam, was educated.

Asperger’s can be a scary diagnosis for a family to hear about a child. The more educated someone becomes and the more that family advocates for his or her child, the better. School can be a very successful place for a child with Asperger’s. It all depends on how much the parent knows and how much the school knows. Educate yourself, don’t be afraid to go in and talk to your child’s class about the disorder. The more his or her peers know, the better for your child.

Adam has since graduated from high school. He is a success story of a school and a family working together to provide someone with Asperger’s one of the best educational experiences possible. He is the face of Asperger’s.

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