This is a question often asked by teachers and parents: how to help a child with Asperger’s syndrome, both in his social life and at school?
To answer this question we will provide a brief and clear explanation of what Asperger’s is and how we can help affected children, both in the classroom, at home and in their personal lives.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders.
The term “spectrum disorder” refers to the fact that the symptoms of each of these disorders can appear in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity: two children with the same diagnosis, despite having certain patterns of behavior in common, may have a wide range of abilities and skills.
More information: “Asperger’s Syndrome: 10 Signs of the Disorder”
Difficulties and limitations caused by this neurobiological disorder
Males are usually the most likely to have this disorder and are usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 9. The main characteristics can be mentioned in four main areas, each of which has weaknesses, but also strengths. Let’s see:
1. Social relations
Difficulty understanding the rules of social interaction, often does not share their feelings, concerns and has difficulty developing empathy. Their strength : They tend to show themselves as sincere, objective, noble, faithful and loyal people.
2.Communication and language
Difficulty in starting and maintaining a conversation, phrases are short and literal, sometimes seeming rude, and they find it too difficult to connect with the speaker. Their strength : They have a large technical vocabulary, enjoy word games and sometimes have great memory skills.
3.Mental flexibility and imagination
They have difficulty being flexible or relaxed, worry about unusual things to the point of obsession, are often repetitive on a topic, and tend to be perfectionists. Strength : They become experts in what pleases them, are researchers par excellence and are very faithful to their areas of interest.
4.Coordination and fine motor skills
There’s motor lag and clumsiness.
5.Other areas that may present particularities
Unusual sensitivity to sensory stimuli (light, sounds, textures)
Tips for Helping a Child with Asperger’s
Below we are going to know a series of recommendations focused on helping the child with Asperger’s Syndrome in areas that usually present difficulties within the educational centre: social relations and work in the classroom.
1. Children with Asperger’s and Social Relations
He should be taught explicitly all those aspects that most people learn intuitively. Social relationships are fundamental for these children to develop their abilities and their life in community.
Here you have several recommendations, observations and advice to support you in this area .
- Greeting : How to use the right tone? What should you pay attention to? What gestures should you use? This type of skill can be taught by means of dramatizations where the codes to be acquired are emphasized.
- Engaging in conversation : How to give the other person a turn, when it is your turn to talk end a conversation, how to know if the other person is interested. Which topics can be related to the conversation and which are not. An object or signal can be used to guide the conversation, as well as television programs.
- Maintaining a conversation : They should be taught to determine when someone is joking, uses metaphors, and what to say at that moment, to detect how the other person feels about a certain expression or reaction, and what to do about it, how to differentiate if someone does something on purpose (not by accident) and how they should respond. This kind of skills can be developed more easily through role play that allows them to think from the other person’s point of view. It is important how these experiences can help them in their everyday life.
- Language and oral comprehension : They can also present a difficulty in understanding colloquial language, as they tend to understand communication in a literal way.Consequently, more “exact” phrases should be used (example: “I’m hot” and not “I’m dying of heat”). In addition, we should emphasize our messages so that they are understood, using positive rather than negative forms (“we should stay seated” rather than “we should not get out of the chair”).
- Create a “circle of pairs” that helps them feel more confident to fit in with the group. To do this, it is first necessary to have the collaboration and understanding of the limitations of these people, to delegate activities or occupations that allow them to feel more relaxed and willing to interact and, at the same time, to encourage the pairs to serve as models in learning specific skills, such as: how to make a greeting between friends, how they can use their hands, how they can place their feet and body; as well as the use of facial expressions according to the conversation or environment/activity.
- Gradually the degree of relationship and cooperation can be increased , for which aspects such as: physical proximity, tolerance, patience must be worked on. Respecting the spaces of “retreat” is important. That is to say, not to force them to stay in a group.
- They learn their communication skills by imitation (intonation, posture, attitude) without having the necessary intuition to match it to a certain environment. For example, they may speak to children as if they were adults, because they were taught to speak in order to communicate with their parents. In these cases, recordings can be used that gradually show them what their language should be depending on the variables. And, in addition, providing spaces to practice them, can be accompanied by the “circle of peers” to support them, trying that they themselves can observe the areas to be improved. They can be shown cases where the language is too high, too low, too fast, too slow, too monotonous…
- Explicit rules are vital to guide group activities , the purpose of the group work should be made clear.
- Conversations should be clear , transparent, without double meanings, irony or any kind of confusion in the sense of the sentence.Ideas must be transmitted without leaving anything “between the lines” so that they can be understood. The purpose you want to communicate must be made very clear.
- Explanations or instructions should be simple, short , concrete, and transmitted slowly. We should try to attract attention before starting the conversation, try to make sure the child is close by and mentions his name, thus reducing the chances of him being distracted and not understanding the explanations. We must try to systematize the instructions so that the steps or points to be transmitted are clearly defined. We can help with visual clues, drawings or signs.
- Teach them to detect when they are angry or frustrated in order to define not allowed behaviours and strategies to channel them. Have an “emergency protocol” with the steps to follow in case of triggering and disruptive situations.
- If we have to point out inappropriate behaviour, let’s do it in a neutral way and always make it clear to them what the correct way is and the consequences. Let’s check if they understood the explanation. Do not insist on making eye contact.
2. Helping a child with Asperger’s in school
In the school setting, children with Asperger’s syndrome may have a number of specific difficulties and limitations. That is why teachers must be aware of this disorder in order to be able to adapt some criteria to help children with Asperger’s, always in the hands of educational psychologists and other professionals.
The mission is that these children are integrated in the best possible way into the dynamics of the class , and that they can follow the courses with the minimum possible obstacles, developing some of their virtues and intellectual potentialities. Below are some tips for this purpose.
- Let’s try to incorporate the interests that the person has expressed into his or her academic curriculum and use his or her fixation on that subject in different areas and subjects (for example, in Spanish we can let him or her write about spaceships, in mathematics he or she can take the measurements of the spaceship, etc).When he finishes his daily work, he can devote himself to his personal project.
- Let’s place it in a place free of distractions , that can feel that it works individually. Let’s orient him with respect to the materials he requires for each lesson, preferably by making a list and placing it in a fixed and accessible place. Preferably, a fixed location.
- Let’s establish short-term goals , clearly defining the quality of the work we expect to obtain from the child. Also, let’s inform him about the time he should spend on each activity, helping him with a clock intended only for him. We can use incentives as a reward.
- Remember to always use attractive visual material (pictograms, maps, diagrams, computer use, schedules, lists…). When the child starts work, let’s set up a sign (for example, a green circle on the desk and a red circle when he has to finish).
- When preparing material, introduce key words , symbols or specific signs that will allow the child to remember the information. When evaluating their work, do not use open-ended questions. Whenever possible, establish closed questions that allow the child to remember the specific information and provide him/her with the previously mentioned key words or symbols. Using oral assessments can make the job easier. Also, give your child extra time to finish assignments or tests.
- The working material should be expanded , and it should be clearly indicated where the answers or the working area should be placed.
- Let’s make sure you have the necessary and organized work material . Sometimes it is useful to define the materials with colours that represent a certain material.
- Let’s offer support to the child with Asperger’s with a partner who encourages him to finish the work , but trying to help him to be able to do it by himself. It is important to emphasize his skills and achievements.
- Let’s pay attention to the emotional indicators , trying to prevent possible alterations in your mood. Let’s avoid criticism and punishment as much as possible, and replace them with positive reinforcement, flattery and reward.
- Dorado Moreno, M. (2005). Another way of looking: memories of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome.
- Peeters, T. (2008). Autism: from theoretical understanding to educational intervention.