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how to effectively include students with high functioning autism and asperger s syndrome

How to Effectively Include Students with High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Kimberly Bennett

Educational Consultant

  • This Power Point presentation is to help teachers understand the deficit of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and to provide suggestions on how to successfully include them in the regular education classroom.

Working with children on the spectrum can be challenging but I can assure you that you will learn a great deal about yourself and teaching by having them in your life.


Understanding autism spectrum disorder is the first step in accepting the differences that make these individuals unique and fascinating.

  • This presentation just scratches the surface of the needs of each of the children on the spectrum in your classroom.

I attempted to cover areas that appear to affect most teachers and students in the regular education classroom.


I have taught children with autism for the past 7 years and have grown professionally in ways that I never would have experienced had they not entered my life.

let s begin with cognitive profile of children with autism asperger s syndrome
  • Weaknesses:
  • Inflexibility in applying rules to changing contexts
  • Difficulty with Executive Functioning
  • Difficulty with Complex Motor planning
  • Difficulty with Perspective Taking

We will cover these throughout the presentation

rule learning
Rule Learning
  • Rules are a learned concept not a generalized concept for children with autism. Their brains do not generate the rules by themselves they have to be taught to them.
  • They need to be clearly stated.
  • Children with autism can learn things by categories but they cannot generate or organize the categories by themselves. They can learn it if you do it for them.
do rules always stay the same
Do rules always stay the same?
  • When do they change?
  • How do we know when they change?
  • We categorize rules and that helps us know when to use them.
the rule of swearing
The rule of swearing…

Where can typical kids swear and get away with it?

What if kids on the autism spectrum hear kids swearing on the back of the bus and at home? While playing on the playground they swear at a teacher or another student.

What discipline procedure should be implemented if these kids are caught swearing on the playground?

  • The child with the autistic brain needs to be taught the rules of swearing because they may not be able to categorize it or apply the rule to different situations ---
rules of liking the opposite sex
Rules of liking the opposite sex
  • What are some behaviors children perform in elementary school when they like someone of the opposite sex?
  • What do they do in middle school?
  • What do they do in high school?
  • What do they do in college?
how do the rules change
How do the rules change?
  • What if you were functioning at a social-emotional age of 12-18 months to 3-5 years? Failure to consider this in treatment of these students worsens the behavior and function.
rules rules rules
Rules, Rules, Rules
  • Transition rules
  • Lunchroom rules
  • Playground rules
  • Hallway rules
  • Rules at home
  • Bus rules
  • Different teachers-different RULES
rules can sometimes override concepts example
Rules can sometimes override concepts: example
  • Bill is a young adult with autism who decided to take figure skating lessons. His mother drove him to the rink several times a week. After a while, she decided to skate while he had his lesson. Bill performed his routine, but people learned to stay out of his way. He went where his program required him to go regardless of others. One day his mother forgot to note where Bill was and he ran her over, knocking her unconscious. The emergency team was called and she was given first aide and taken to the hospital. The next day she asked Bill why he did not come to her assistance, since he was an Eagle Scout with a first aide badge. He relied, “It expired.”
children on the spectrum like the following
Children on the spectrum like the following:
  • Knowing what the rules are, what is going to happen next.
  • If your brain is not doing this for you, you will need some help.
  • How stressful would it be to never know what to expect next and then you got in trouble when you guessed wrong?
executive functioning
  • The capacity to control our own attentional focus
  • Enables a person to do or attend to more than one thing at a time.
  • It enables us to recognize what is relevant shift attention, and then recall what is relevant.
  • Ability to Monitor Self Inhibition
Attention, organization, and generalization contribute to executive functioning.
  • With strong executive functioning we are not distracted by the irrelevant and can shift our focus to the relevant.
The teacher told the class to take out their black pencils. Yours fell on the floor and when you looked in the case you did not see it. The teacher continues to give directions-- what do you know to do?
  • What is the most relevant thing you would need to do in this scenario?
  • If you have trouble with executive functioning what would happen? What would the child focus on?
Can you talk on the cell phone to your spouse when you are lost in an area with a lot of traffic?
  • Can you talk to your spouse and watch an interesting TV show at the same time?
  • Why?
executive functioning22
  • Think of how many times a day you require a student to shift attention.

In the first hour of school what do you require students to do?

transitioning from reading to a spelling test
Transitioning from Reading to a spelling test…
  • What are your instructions?
  • Count up the number of instructions you give your class.
  • If your brain did not have the ability to take in all of that information at once what would you want someone to do for you?
poor executive functioning
Poor Executive functioning
  • They may not be distractible in the way that others with attentional problems may be.
  • In fact it may be very hard to get them to shift attention.
if a student has difficulty writing down thoughts what can you ask him to do instead
If a student has difficulty writing down thoughts what can you ask him to do instead?

Answer: let them tell you instead of writing

For some student the act of writing and thinking at the same time is to difficult. Many students with autism/Asperger’s have fine motor delays and it is very difficult for them to write. If you want to know what a person with autism knows…ask them.

attention definition
  • The ability to see what is relevant, and shift attention to the relevant, contributes to what is called attention.
what can we do answer use a strength visual performance
What can we do?Answer: Use a strength-Visual Performance

Children with autism frequently have better visual performance abilities than auditory alone.

live it out loud
Live it out loud:

Explain what you are doing and why

i.e. verbally walk through the process of losing a pencil.


Let the child know the sequence of events a visual schedule posted on the wall or at their desk is extremely helpful.

Let them know what is going to happen throughout the day.

older children
Older Children
  • Prepare a schedule for daily routines
  • What do I do first, next, last?
  • Books needed for each class
  • Completing a project
  • Provide information about time periods

Graphic organizers

Highlight important information

make a task schedule for a spelling test
Make a task schedule for a spelling test
  • What does the child have to do first, next, last? (List the steps in order, place it on their desk to remind them.)
executive functioning33
Executive Functioning
  • Tell them what is relevant.
  • When presenting them with a structured lessons the child needs help figuring out the relevant information so that they can answer the relevant questions.
the autistic brain
The Autistic Brain
  • Some adults in the spectrum state that thoughts come into their heads and they can’t get them to stop unless they say the words over and over again.
  • I heard one man say, “When I feel my autism take over it is like a train speeding down a track and I know it will soon crash. The looks and comments that will come from others will not be nice, or understanding, but hurtful and rude.”
non fiction
Non Fiction
  • Information presented in a direct way
  • Usually not a problem
  • In most literature a great deal is implied.

The reader is invited to understand and wonder about things.

This is frustrating as the communication of most people, (the communication that is to be “understood),” is said without explicitly being stated.

brain imaging brain activation in people with autism during sentence comprehension
BRAIN IMAGING: Brain activation in people with autism during sentence comprehension.
  • Autism group has less activation in Broca’s area ( a sentence integration area) than the control group and more in Wernicke’s area ( a word processing area)
These results have been consistent with performance. These student have poorer comprehension of complex sentences but are good at reading words (spelling bee champs).
Reading a text is not a problem but being able to pull out relevant information from the text can be a problem. Some researchers feel that some people on the autism spectrum see a sentence as one big word and not individual words with different meanings.
Brain circuitry underlying basic abilities are intact, and these circuits plus visual processing are relied upon to perform tasks that typical individuals perform using and integrative circuitry and higher order abilities.
Functional under-connectivity of neural systems is a general feature of the brain in autism.
  • Information processing capacity is reduced so dual tasks, speed of processing, and any task relying on strategy is very problematic.
in other words
In other words…
  • If a student is feeling rushed to do more than one task at a time, they are incapable of handling all of that information at once, and performance will be effected.
  • Neuro pathways are not connecting information together at a high speed or at all.
executive functioning45
Executive Functioning
  • Monitoring Self Inhibitions
  • Neuro-typical people can “self talk”
  • Children with brain damage in executive functioning areas of the brain will tend to “blurt out” what they are thinking.
  • Engage in self talk that is repetitive in nature at times not directly related to what is happening.
executive functioning and writing
Executive functioning and writing
  • Many children do not show “what they know” when they have to write.
  • It is important to find out how the child learns best and how he demonstrates what he knows.
theory of mind cognitive
  • Modular view of cognition that suggests the capacity to understand the intentions of others AND it follows its own propriety development.
theory of mind

A special type of cognition that allows one to depict the psychological states of others (thoughts and beliefs).

theory of mind49
Theory of Mind
  • Critical decoupling mechanism that allows the child to keep cognitive representations organized so his/her thoughts can easily be distinguished from the thoughts of others.

**A break down in this process leads to the social and pragmatic deficits in children with Asperger’s Syndrome**

  • Children with autism will have significant problems understanding the social world around them.
  • They will be unable to predict the actions of others.
mind reading
Mind Reading

Neuro typical people do a lot of mind reading

We have the ability to predict what someone is going to say next based on the content of the conversation.

We can read body language--this helps us “read people.”

Inflection of tone helps us understand the context in which something is being said. Think of how many ways you can say the word “Great.” Each inflection of your voice changes it’s meaning.

non verbal language is 90 of our communication
Non Verbal Language is 90% of our communication
  • Children with Asperger Syndrome/autism have a very difficult time reading body language and our verbal inflections.
emotional reaction
Emotional Reaction
  • When “we” have an emotional reaction to the behavior or words of those with Asperger’s Syndrome, our reaction may not accurately reflect the intention or meaning of their behavior.
Intention of others

Many children on the autism spectrum report being bullied. Bullies take advantage of their inability to read social cue or their overreaction to social situations.

This is a very serious problem for kids on the spectrum. (More on that later)

more on theory of mind
More on Theory of Mind
  • Many children with Asperger’s Syndrome can understand another person’s mind to the extent that they may know what knowledge another person has.
  • They can figure this out only when it is based on whether the other person has seen or heard something.
theory of mind57
  • They recognize knowledge based on exposure or lack of exposure to information the same way they would know what was on an audio/video tape, based on whether the recorder was present or turned on.
factual information
  • Children with Asperger’s Syndrome have a theory of mind as it relates factual information that someone else has.
Can Learn to Identify Emotions
  • They may learn (perhaps the way that they learn facts) what someone may feel in certain situations, but do not sense the other person’s feelings or personal experience as it relates to the information.
AS children often have strong feelings and reactions themselves.
  • However, they often do not recognize or understand someone else’s emotional experience.
different from teacher s and students
  • The classroom may be a difficult place for an AS child, and that child may be confusing or upsetting to others who do not understand him.
The Asperger’s child may participate without anticipating or comprehending the response of others.
how can we recognize theory of mind tom issues in asperger s syndrome
How can we recognize theory of mind (TOM) issues in Asperger’s Syndrome?
  • If the answer to these questions is yes your student may have TOM issues:

Do you have student that is always correct and can never be wrong?

Do you have a student who cannot work in a group because they did not use the suggestion that they offered?

Very Argumentative?

what about empathy
What About Empathy?
  • Empathy requires understanding the mind and the experience of another person.
  • This is not really possible for those who understand as though they are receiving information, what others or most understand by “feel” and by identification.
  • Also includes: awareness of your effect on others.
  • It includes an awareness of what another person may be feeling as that person communicates with you or reacts to what you are saying.
  • Asperger children can learn “about” others.
  • Sometimes they study our minds and reactions, and find that cognitive understanding can help them cope with us.
  • This is not the same as feeling or identifying with our experiences.
Assignments that deal with understanding feelings.
  • How can their difficulty understanding emotions and feelings of others interfere with assignments that requires them to respond to emotional information?
  • Terry and Rich are on the same softball team in the town league. Rich knew that Terry had never gotten over the fact that he had once dated Terry’s girlfriend. During the second inning, Rich made an error at third base and the other team scored a run. Back in the dugout Terry said to Rich, “Nice play at third, Rich.”
Fact Question: Did Rich miss a play at third base?
  • Belief question: Was Terry giving Rich a compliment?
  • Belief Question: Did Rich believe what Terry said about the play at third?
Perspective Taking
  • The ability to take perspective is essential for participation in any type of group (social or academic) as well as interpreting information that requires understanding of other people’s minds such as reading comprehension, history, social studies, etc.
Perspective Taking
  • Weakness in perspective taking is a significant part of the diagnosis ofsocial cognitive deficits.
central coherence
  • The process of constructing a higher meaning from diverse information.
central coherence73
  • Asperger Syndrome children remember a lot of information.
  • Little Professors when they share information in an area of interest.
  • They generally do not judge certain facts to be more important than others.
central coherence74
  • Knowing what is relatively more or less important to learn can be difficult or even impossible.
  • They may already know more than the teacher expects them to learn, perhaps even more than the teacher knows, about a specific area.
  • This is very annoying to teachers who do not understand the disability.
let s talk about homework
Let’s talk about…HOMEWORK
  • Identify the purpose of homework
  • Identify the amount of time the student must spend on homework.
  • Determine whether homework can be done after school or in school.
  • Ensure that homework planner has enough room for writing assignments.
  • Decide :
  • Whether teacher will write in planner
  • If teacher will prompt student to write in planner
  • Who will review planner to ensure that all details are included in planner.
  • Homework should be presented in the same manner, same place each day.
  • Provide models of homework
  • Long division old way versus new way
  • Parents report that homework can be frustrating for them their child screams,
  • “You don’t know how to do it!”
  • Recognize that homework is a family activity
  • Some families CANNOT do homework
  • Provide enough specificity so that parents understand the assignment solely from the written information.
  • Have teacher sign homework planner
  • Have a method in place for clarifying or obtaining homework.
  • School hotline
  • Peer system
  • School web-based system
  • Faxed or emailed assignments
  • Require parent to sign the planner
  • Ensure that homework is turned in
  • Homework is the passport to enter the classroom
  • Develop a means of letting parents know that a homework assignment is not turned in ( same as in-class assignments).
  • A web based posting of homework turned in/not turned in makes the responsibility the parents.
joint attention another part of autism to be aware of
JOINT ATTENTION -Another part of autism to be aware of…
  • Definition: The ability to coordinate attention between people and objects. Loveland &Landry ( 1986)
  • An attentional state during which a child and a partner share an interest.
components of joint attention
  • Sharing experiences
  • Attention: To some 3rd object or event apart from the two participants in the interaction.
young children with autism have
  • Deficits in declarative pointing and showing

Baron-Cohen (1989)

Deficits in looking where others point

Leekman et al. (1997)

Deficits in following eye gaze of others. They are not aware of where others are looking. This interferes with understanding what others are thinking about. What is the woman thinking about? How can you tell?
think of ways this can interfere with a child in your classroom

If a student has a difficult time following eye gaze or is not following social cues as to where they should be looking…

How would this interfere with learning in your classroom?

What are social cues teachers give?

social behavior
  • They don’t understand the rules of
  • Social proximity
  • Eye Contact
  • Gestures
  • Posture
  • Facial expressions
  • Take things literally
what do these eyes tell you
What do these eyes tell you?

How do you know that?

Nothing has been said?


Children on the autism spectrum can have a difficult time reading our eyes- yet our eyes speak of our feelings and reactions.

  • 90% of participants reported extensive bullying with physical assault, of those:
  • 50% reported sexual harassment
  • 50% of those cases occurring during class
  • 47% during lunch
  • 33% of participants perceived that they were not liked as well as their peers
  • When students reported bullying incidents, 33% perceived bullying was likely to increase.
let s understand each other
Let’s Understand Each Other
  • It is helpful for those with autism to learn about us.
  • It is helpful for us to “Know about them.”
  • Being open to knowing that person’s experience from his or her perspective can help with behavior management.
how can wanting to understand help with the moment
How can wanting to understand help with the moment?
  • Knowing about the Asperger/autism mind does not necessarily mean understanding a particular child’s meaning, behavior, and learning issues at any given time.
  • Teachers are confronted by the need to handle situations in the moment.
  • Knowing that there is something to understand allows the adult to consider whether there is a real need to respond immediately, such as when safety is a concern.
remember to be kind
  • Remembering that there is something to understand, whether or not it is understood at the time, helps the adult to be kind, even when firm about important issues.
check the intentions
  • Consequences do not always have to be punishment.
  • We can be sympathetic when a child is dealing with the consequence of something she did not intend.
  • If we were to spend time in a very different culture, as we tried to learn what is appropriate, we might make faux pas or seem offensive, and we would misunderstand others.
  • We would need to learn new skills, rules, and the meaning of our behavior to others.
  • We would need to find a way to be with others, without trying to become one of them, which we really could not do.
answer the following questions
  • Who would we want to help us?
  • What would we need to help us describe the culture in a way that we could understand?
things we can do
Things we can do:
  • WE CAN…

Accept what we do not understand without feeling overwhelmed or angry.

Understand more…

Avoid alienating the child- Don’t be the child’s first bully. Children in the classroom follow the teacher’s lead.

Be the Guide -Set the Tone
  • Give facts in an unemotional tone of voice.
  • Be logical and sequential-they need logic for everything.
  • Model positive acceptance.
before you react ask yourself
Before You ReactAsk yourself…

What could this behavior mean?

How does it serve the child?

Could it be an attempt to cope?

What appears to be an unwillingness to do an assignment or participate in a learning activity may have an important reason.

He may tell us

  • “It’s too hard.”
  • “I know this already.”
  • “It’s too loud.”
When the child answers our questions like this…
  • It is not useful to see the ways that the child’s answer seems wrong to us.
  • It is useful to consider how his answers may be the right answer for him.
Is this purposeful disrespect?
  • What they say and how they say it leads others to assume that they are communicating feeling or intend to affect the feelings of others.
They often do not recognize or understand this.
  • They often do not understand what others experience.
sensory deficits
Sensory Deficits

Child can be hypo- sensitive or hyper- sensitive to sound, light, smell, touch, or taste.


Do not put a child with autism next to a noisy or busy area in your classroom.

i leave you with this question
I leave you with this question?
  • How would you like to live in this world with these challenges?

If you need further assistance, please feel free to get in touch with me. I will be more than happy to assist you.

  • Kim Bennett 814-542-2501 ext 126