It’s an inescapable fact: Autism Spectrum Disorder is becoming more prevalent. Ongoing research is discovering that this group of developmental disorders affects more school-aged children than once thought.
Possibly the most common is Asperger’s Syndrome. This particular condition flies in the face of preconceived notions educators have of autism. The popular image is that of a child who barely communicates, has repetitive habits, lacks social skills, and is barely able to take care of himself. Those with Asperger’s may share some of these characteristics; however, they are far from being incapacitated or unable to move forward in their educational endeavors.
Asperger’s Syndrome is not typical. The child with this condition will have good verbal skills, do well in particular academic subjects, and will most likely be placed in a general education setting. In some cases, he’ll be enrolled in college-bound courses or an honor’s class. Some will even go on to college, excel, and earn post-graduate or doctorate degrees.
Still, a student with this condition will have limitations. He will be noted for lacking social skills, having unusual habits, wearing the same clothing (or same style of clothing) and possibly having issues with hygiene.
On the spectrum, Asperger’s falls on the higher end of the scale. Often, special educators have called it “high-functioning autism” because of its relatively mild effects on the student with the condition. Also, a student with it is usually – partially or fully – mainstreamed into the general education population. In many cases, all he will need is a few accommodations.
Still, there are areas where he will struggle. A student with Asperger’s will struggle with reading comprehension. Phonemic awareness or phonics is rarely a problem for him. However, complex critical thinking skills such as deciphering connotative or figurative meanings can be difficult.
Communication and social skills such as empathizing with others, reading body language, or even looking or facing someone when talking to another person can be difficult for a student with this condition. In many respects, he will have problems connecting socially with others because he doesn’t have the skills nor the ability to grasp skills needed to effectively communicate with others.
Often, a complaint other students have of the student with this condition is that he’ll stand next to them with no respect to personal space, stare blankly, or blurt out something off-base or not related to a conversation. (Another complaint is that the person may not be part of the group, but will butt in, say something as if he was part of it.) In part, this habit or trait of the individual has made it difficult for them to make social connections with others.
In many cases, a student with Asperger’s will have peculiar or repetitive habits. Most notably, it’s the attire he wears. It’s not uncommon to have a student wear the same uniform every day. Often, it may be the same design or style. However, some will wear the clothing for one or more weeks, despite it being dirty, stained or reeking of body odor.
Another characteristic – one that can cause behavioral issues in the classroom – is his bluntness. Sometimes, he will not hide his displeasure, annoyance or hatred for a classmate or teacher. Again, his difficulty with social skills comes into play. He may have not developed the skills to delegate or to be courteous with others.
Not everyone with this form of autism will have noticeable traits. For many, the symptoms are so minute that a teacher may not notice it. They may even be very personable and sociable and be well aware of their condition.
When it comes to dealing with a student with Asperger’s, a teacher may discover that the challenges are more in social skills than academics. He’ll be able to do the work, in most cases, but placing that student in a cooperative group – in which he must work with others – may be challenging.
For teachers, the accommodations needed to help the student will vary. However, prompting of rules, repeating information and giving options for group projects will usually help him function in the classroom.
Asperger’s has no cure. However, early detection, accommodations and a general understanding makes it manageable. Many with this condition have gone on to do spectacular and impressive things in life. There are scientists, entertainers, writers, and business leaders who have the characteristics of Asperger’s.
An individual with Asperger’s may have deficiencies in social skills, but they can still live a relatively normal or successful life.