Aspergers and the Autism spectrum
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are developmental disabilities which are typified by challenges in the areas of social interaction, communication, sensory sensitivity and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours.
The word ‘spectrum’ is used to show that the range of difficulties suffered by those with autism can vary greatly. Disorders include autistic disorder, Aspergers disorder and pervasive development disorder. Studies show that 1 in 160 Australians have an ASD and it affects boys more than girls. Early diagnosis and intervention is key for children on the spectrum.
Aspergers disorder is characterised by those who have difficulties with social interaction, social communication and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours. However individuals tend not have a significant delay in early language, cognitive abilities or self help skills making the disorder harder to diagnose.
How is ASD diagnosed?
ASD and Aspergers Disorder are diagnosed through an assessment process which involves observing and meeting with the individual, their family and service providers. Information is collected and focuses on strengths and difficulties particularly in the areas of social interaction, communication and restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours. Developmental paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists with experience in assessing ASD are qualified to make a diagnosis. .
Special needs in school
What support can teachers and schools provide?
1. Routines - Classrooms should be kept consistent and predictable and it is key that children with Aspergers Disorder are able to anticipate each day’s events.
2. Visual Supports - Where possible, a visual support should be provided to assist in understanding the course of events, rules and specific activities.
3. Rules - It is very important that class rules with appropriate consequences and relatively immediate consequences are applied. Classroom rules will need to be explained in detail and supported by visuals.
4. Playground - If possible allow children with Aspergers Disorder the option of spending break times in the classroom or library instead of the playground. The playground which is noisy and unpredictable may cause great anxiety.
5. Communication - children with Aspergers Disorder can have trouble understanding verbal and non-verbal communication. Some guidelines for improving communication include:
- Use simple language
- Be literal
- Express one idea at a time and talk about things in chronological order
- Give specific choices rather than open ended ones
- Give plenty of time for a response
- Talk in a calm voice
- Use positive statements
6. Homework - it can be difficult for children with Aspergers Disorder to understand that they have to do school work at home. Allow children to complete work which they have already mastered and break down assignment work into small, manageable chunks.
7. Empathy - children with Aspergers Disorder need extra help to understand apologising to another child and recognising the impact of their actions on others.
What should other children be told?
Classmates can be helped to understand children with Aspergers Disorder by:
- being encouraged to talk to them as they would any of their other friends
- being informed that they might have to be patient, be willing to explain things and wait for a response
- gaining an appreciation of they types of things they might need to explain like jokes and the rules of games.
- being told that they might get frustrated and that’s ok - just like they might get frustrated with their other friends and siblings
- letting them know that sometimes children with Aspergers Disorder just want to be on their own and that’s ok too
What can parents do?
Parents are the best advocates for the needs of their children. Things that parents can consider when supporting their children at school include:
- Talk to the staff about your child’s specific needs as part of enrolment focusing on any routines or interests your child has as well as how they best communicate and understand.
- Share the ways that you have learned to manage your child’s behaviour
- Help the teacher understand the best way to make changes in their classroom to assist your child
- Alert the school to any areas of sensory sensitivity
- Meet with the teacher regularly to discuss any issues as they arise
- Set up strategies and routines for your child that can be followed at home and at school
- Talk to other parents about their school experience to gain an insight into what is going to work best for you and your child
Find more about special needs learning and development
- Choosing a school for your special needs child
- Learning disability assessment
- Long term illness and school
- Mobility issues and school
- My friend's different
- Social skills for children with autism
- Support services for children with special needs
Ready Set Learn
Written by Zoey Martin for Kidspot, New Zealand's largest online education resource. Sources include 'autism spectrum', 'Classroom Ideas for Children with Asperger's Syndrome', 'Asperger syndrome in your classroom (information for classmates)' and 'Asperger syndrome'. Zoey is a mum of one, with another on the way, who blogs at Good Goog or follow her on Twitter