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Working with Students with Asperger's Syndrome

Faculty Resource Sheet

Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects social, communicative, adaptive, and organizational skills.  Although there are common characteristics, the behavior of people with Asperger’s can vary from one individual to another.  For example, some are quiet and prefer to be alone while others are social and seek to engage with others.  People with Asperger’s, however, may express some of the following characteristics:

  • Limitations in the ability to:
    • Cope with fear or social confusion
    • Understand non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture
    • Express empathy or sympathy for others
    • Adapt to new unpredictable situations
    • Adhere to conversational norms such as maintaining eye contact, turn taking, controlling voice volume, and staying on topic
    • Understand when and how to seek assistance
  • Needing repetitive and predictable routines
  • Expressing strong yet narrow interests
  • Exhibiting literal and concrete thinking patterns
  • Showing potential to engage in self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking, hand flapping, and spinning
  • Showing tendency to pull social conversation or interaction to one direction
  • Demonstrating the ability to understand concrete concepts
  • Demonstrating the ability to quickly memorize rote material
  • Expressing a tendency to think, learn, and recall visual information
  • Exhibiting a tendency to be precise and detail oriented
  • Manifesting average to well above average intelligence
  • Expressing a strong sense of integrity and honesty
  • Possessing a large factual knowledge base
  • Having difficulty with “small talk”
  • Having difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • May be sensitive to certain stimuli such as noise or light

Tips for Teaching Students with Asperger's

One of the most useful tips to teaching students with Asperger’s is to remember the importance of clear, concise, and concrete communication.  Often students with Asperger’s do not understand metaphors, humor, or innuendo, so it is important to:

  • Be direct, clear and concrete
  • Provide specific and concrete direction
  • Break down lessons and skills into small sets
  • Not assume they are not paying attention if they fail to make eye contact
  • Avoid using metaphors
  • Indicate when you are transitioning from one subject to another
  • Be patient and allow ample time for response
  • Be willing to repeat information
  • Ask the student to repeat information back to you.
  • Use visual aids in the form of pictures or words
  • Be prepared to leave visual aids or reference materials with the student
  • Be aware of potential sensory overload

Students with Asperger’s also may not respond well to change in routines and may be limited in their ability to cope with flexible social situations.  In order to help deal with this, you may:

  • When possible, provide alternatives to small group discussions
  • Be clear on when and why your class will meet in an alternative location