Like all people, children with Asperger’s Syndrome have their own unique personalities. Symptoms are manifested in ways specific to each individual.
There is not one therapeutic or educational approach that works with all children with Asperger’s; however, there are sets of symptoms or characteristics that define the disorder and effective methods to instruct and educate, both socially and academically.
Asperger’s Syndrome Social Spectrum
Students with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty understanding the complex rules of social interaction. They are typically naive, egocentric, and may not enjoy physical contact. Understanding jokes, irony, or metaphor is often beyond their comprehension. Specific and narrow areas of interest can be one of the most striking features of AS. Children and adults may be able to spout volumes of detailed information about a subject, yet not have a genuine understanding of the broader topic.
Because they lack tact and are insensitive to other’s needs, they stand out in school settings. Other children misinterpret their body language and inept social behavior, and the AS child becomes the perfect target for bullies. Bullying or teasing by other students cannot be tolerated. The more aware the child is of his own disability, the more apt he is to have low self-esteem and be self-critical.
Most children with Aspergers Syndrome want friends and want to function in social situations; however, they are not wired to understand the nuances required to navigate through the complex world of human interaction.
St. Anthony Understands Asperger’s Syndrome Students
The staff of The St. Anthony School understand the complex needs of students with Asperger’s. The environment must be safe and predictable. A regimented, external structure is necessary for these children to succeed. Transitions (such as changing classrooms or finding lockers) must be kept to a minimum. A consistent daily routine is imperative as these children do not do well with change and surprise. They can be easily distracted by external stimuli, finding it difficult to focus on or decide what is relevant.
We have discovered over the years that some students who were initially diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder actually have Asperger’s Syndrome. They did not understand their environment and they were in turn, misunderstood by their world. When they asked for clarification in their socially inept ways, it seemed like they were being challenging or rude; teachers and peers faced with the situation would react in a hostile manner, thus confusing the AS child even more.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Social Skills
The student with Asperger’s Syndrome must be taught how to react to social cues.
Asperger students must be given a repertoire of responses to use in these situations. They are typically incapable of simply observing and assimilating social behaviors from parents or peers.
Sensory processing or sensory integration may also be an issue with Asperger’s Syndrome children. This is a condition where sensory signals do not get organized into appropriate responses. The student with sensory issues finds it hard to process and act upon information received through the senses. St. Anthony classrooms are designed to keep distractions to a minimum. Bright florescent, buzzing lights are banned and there is soft music or white noise in the background; the dècor is more like a comfortable home than a classroom.
Programs must be implemented that will teach the children what to say and how to say it. Their social judgment advances only after they have been taught the rules over and over on a daily basis.
The child with Aspergers Syndrome may never really understand the social behavior required of him in this world; however, we know at St. Anthony’s that he can be taught, much like an actor learning his lines, to function in society.
An adult suffering with Asperger’s Syndrome wrote about how he felt attempting to fit into the world. As to the effort and struggle to change his behavior he stated: “All that for a world where people don’t say what they mean, a world constantly clamoring away at me with visual, aural, tactile and olfactory overload, desperately encouraging new must-have changes to disrupt my comfortable routine.”
The Hopeful Side of Aspergers Syndrome
The Asperger’s individual often feels like an alien on this planet. It is our job at St. Anthony’s to teach him the skills necessary to fit into society as best he can. It is our job to alleviate the loneliness that some of these children feel.
It is our job to honor, encourage, and build the self-esteem of these children that they may face the world with hope.
Contact Saint Anthony School or call (214)443-1205 to discuss further any questions you may have regarding Asperger’s Syndrome in the classroom.