Helping a Child with Aspergers to Learn
Helping a child with Aspergers to learn requires a sound knowledge of Aspergers and their preferred learning styles as well as how to best manage any social or behavioural challenges. The following blog has been written by Brisbane-based Asperger’s tutor Justin Clark from Hope Tutoring.
“What does self-determination mean to you?”
“It means putting feet on my dreams”
Characteristics of Aspergers
Aspergers is a previously used diagnosis on the Autism spectrum. In 2013 it was incorporated into ASD or Autistic Spectrum Disorder. What distinguishes Aspergers from other forms of autism is that students with Aspergers have typical to strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability. Children with autism are often seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is usually not the case for children with Aspergers as they usually want to fit in but may not know how to.
They may not understand social conventions of behaviour, show a lack of empathy, have limited eye contact, seem unengaged in a conversation and not understand sarcasm or non-verbal social cues. However, due to this being a spectrum disorder, what one child or student may present with may be different than another.
Children with Aspergers frequently have motor skills delay or can appear clumsy or awkward, but they don’t have a significant cognitive delay. Their restricted interests, activities and patterns of behaviour usually cause significant problems when it comes to social functioning.
Teaching and Helping a Child with Aspergers
When teaching or helping a child with Aspergers it is important to remember that they often have difficulty remembering detailed verbal instructions or following sequences. As a result, verbal instructions need to kept short or they can be written down.
A useful exercise for this is helping to teach them to ask for help. Consider that the skills needed to ask for assistance from another person involves a series of complicated decisions and levels of self-awareness that they may not have.
For many students with Aspergers, this remains a problem in at least some of the situations they encounter. Therefore, it may not be as simple as saying to them that they should ask for help. To provide help in this area the teacher or parent can build in steps and strategies for seeking assistance.
Two Simple Helping Strategies
One method is to use cue cards as reminders to children with Aspergers to ask for help if they need it. These cards can be keyword taped in their notebooks or other prominent places where they will notice them.
Another strategy to ask for help is the use of visual signals. Checkmarks on work at various points can help remind students to ask the teacher to have their work checked is one signal that is useful. These strategies help the student with Aspergers to increase their independence which is the desired outcome for parents and teacher, along with the student themselves.
Helping a Child with Aspergers who is a Visual Learner
Many students with Aspergers are visual learners and think in pictures instead of words. Therefore, visual aids with pictures or cards representing the words are an aid to foster learning engagement and recall. Concrete materials are invaluable in teaching mathematical concepts. These aids can be further enhanced if they’re tied into what a particular student is interested in.
Students with Aspergers can often have a narrow set of interests or be fixated on a particular subject. However, this can be used to facilitate engagement and motivation by using books or constructing maths problems around their favourite subjects.
Learning engagement then is a key issue. When teaching and helping children with Aspergers to read, Comic Strip Conversations are extremely useful as they provide support to those who struggle to understand the quick exchange of information in a conversation. They’re based on the belief that visualisation and visual supports can improve the understanding and comprehension of conversation. These conversations follow a given structure to organise a social exchange and build in predictability.
Comic Strip Conversations systematically identify what people say and what people may be thinking. In addition, they may provide insight into the student with Aspergers and assist in the identification and expression of ideas that may be confusing. This strategy can also help with their ability to interact with other people and form and maintain friendships, along with building their sense of identity.
Helping a Child with Aspergers by Reducing Behavioural Challengers
When aiming to reduce or eliminate problematic behaviour when teaching and helping a child with Aspergers, we need to know what we would like the child to do instead. It is not enough to identify what we do not want the child to do as it is equally important to specify what the child should be doing. This is known as replacement behaviour.
Furthermore, these replacements must make sense from the child’s perspective and not simply be selected to please us as parents or teachers. For example, if a child screams to get attention, we must teach him another way to get the desired attention. Although we might like the child to be quiet instead of screaming, being quiet is not likely to get the child what screaming achieved, namely, the reaction of other people.
Understanding the Behaviour of Children with Aspergers
If the child with Aspergers is throwing themselves on the floor then it’s probably giving them a sense of control. This is because they’re probably frustrated and not understanding.
If a student with Aspergers throws materials across the room because they didn’t want to do that activity, sending them to time out would probably not be effective because it would achieve what the throwing did, which was to avoid the task. A more useful solution would be to teach them to ask for help or to stop the current activity such as taking a break. Therefore, this teaches them a new skill that meets the same goal that they wanted to achieve.
Visual Prompters can Help a Child with Aspergers
Another skill that can be incorporated is the use of visual prompters. A student with Aspergers can have the best strategies in the world, but when they’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be really tough to remember how and when to use them.
As parents or teachers, if we recognise that the child with Aspergers needs help and needs to use one of the strategies if we only use verbal instruction, they may not hear past the first several words. Visual prompters, therefore, provide a reminder of a strategy that they can use. It can take the form of stickers that are on their workbooks or desk.
If a child likes the Hulk, that can be the reminder sticker that the parent or teacher can tap as they’re moving along. This provides the prompt for the student with Aspergers to remember to use one of their calming strategies. Once again, this helps to build independence and self-determination for the student and encourages a stronger sense of self. Individualised private tutoring can really build and foster these outcomes.
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