Suggestions for Teachers
Teach him binary decision-making. One of the most powerful causes for inertia is the feeling of the Asperger’s child that some task is so vast and complex that he can’t possibly accomplish it. To overcome this barrier, teach him how to factor any problem into two decisions. He makes one of those decisions and then factors the next part of the issue into two more decisions, and makes one of these decisions until the job is done.
- Consult with him to find ways to reduce the stress that he experiences. Talk to him about what is going on at school or on the job. Asperger’s children tend to be very proud. If they cannot follow along in a class (because of the wrong teaching methods), they may attempt to resolve the issue by just refusing to get on the bus in the morning. It’s easier to say "Hell no I won’t go," then to say, "I feel stupid not being able to do the work. Help me!" If they cannot keep up the pace in a job that requires tight teamwork, they are apt to throw down their apron and leave in a fit of anger and frustration.
- Use a prearranged touch prompt. In the example above of the boy who had the debilitating "space outs" while cooking, I suggested that his parents help him keep on track by touching him firmly on the shoulder (a place where he could tolerate strong touch) while suggesting the next step he needs to accomplish in the recipe. A good prompt should provide just the right amount of verbal and tactile stimulation along with a clear and concrete suggestion for the next step stated in visual terms: "O.K. Stephen, looks like you need to open the recipe box and look up the card for oatmeal cookies."
- Lead from behind. To reduce inertia you have to get in the habit of following behind the child somewhat. You go at his speed. If he stops, you stop and get into a consulting role with him. "Jeremy, you’re doing great work getting out the door. You looking for something right now?" Curb your own anger, take a breath, and bridge to his issue. Give him the time that he needs.
- Help him calm by pacing his breathing. If he freezes up and can’t get out the door to take the bus over to his friend’s house for a birthday party, ask him what you can do to help. If he does not answer, assume that he is experiencing anxiety, and that though he seems serene and very still on the outside, his mind is racing at break-neck speed on the inside. Just sit next to him calmly and let your relaxed pace of breathing relax his. Tell him whatever you think he needs to hear to be more relaxed and then get back to helping him to the next step when he is in a better place to hear.
- The classroom routines should be kept as consistent, structured and predictable as possible. Children with AS often don't like surprises. They should be prepared in advance, when possible, for changes and transitions, including things such as schedule breaks, vacation days, etc.
- Rules should be applied carefully. Many of these children can be fairly rigid about following "rules" quite literally. While clearly expressed rules and guidelines, preferably written down for the student, are helpful, they should be applied with some flexibility. The rules do not automatically have to be exactly the same for the child with AS as for the rest of the students--their needs and abilities are different.
- Staff should take full advantage of a child's areas of special interest when teaching. The child will learn best when an area of high personal interest is on the agenda. Teachers can creatively connect the child's interests to the teaching process. One can also use access to the special interests as a reward to the child for successful completion of other tasks or adherence to rules or behavioral expectations.
- Most students with AS respond well to the use of visuals: schedules, charts, lists, pictures, etc. In this way they are much like other children with PDD and autism.
- In general, try to keep teaching fairly concrete. Avoid language that may be misunderstood by the child with AS, such as sarcasm, confusing figurative speech, idioms, etc. Work to break down and simplify more abstract language and concepts
- Explicit, didactic teaching of strategies can be very helpful, to assist the child gain proficiency in "executive function" areas such as organization and study skills.
- Insure that school staff outside of the classroom, such as physical education teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria monitors, librarians, etc., are familiar with the child's style and needs and have been given adequate training in management approaches. Those less structured settings where the routines and expectations are less clear ten to be difficult for the child with AS.
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