How To Help A Child With Asperger Syndrome?

We explain the psychological and social keys to stimulate the learning of these children.

This is a question frequently asked by teachers and parents: how do you help a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, both in their social life and at school? 

To answer this question, we are going to provide a brief and clear explanation about what Asperger’s is and how we can help affected children, both in class and at home and in their personal lives.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called  autism spectrum disorders.

The expression “spectrum disorders” refers to the fact that the symptoms of each one of them can appear in different combinations and in different degrees of severity: two children with the same diagnosis, despite having certain behavior patterns in common, may present a wide range of skills and abilities.

More information:  “Asperger syndrome: 10 signs of this disorder”

Difficulties and limitations caused by this neurobiological disorder

Males tend to have the most with this disorder and are usually diagnosed between 3 to 9 years of age. The main characteristics can be mentioned in four main areas, each one presenting weaknesses, but also strengths. Let’s see:

1. Social relations

Difficulty understanding the rules of social interaction, he does not usually share his feelings, concerns and he has difficulty  developing empathy. Their strength : They tend to show themselves as sincere, objective, noble, faithful and loyal people.

2. Communication and language

Difficulty starting and maintaining a conversation, the sentences are short and literal, sometimes appearing rude, and it is too difficult to connect with the interlocutor Their strength : They have a wide technical vocabulary, they enjoy word games and sometimes have great memory skills.

3. Mental flexibility and imagination

Difficulty being flexible or relaxed, they preoccupy themselves with unusual things to the point of becoming obsessed, they tend to be repetitive in a subject and they  tend to be a perfectionist. Strength : They become experts in what they like, they are researchers par excellence and they are very faithful to their areas of interest.

4. Fine motor and coordination

Motor lag and clumsiness are present.

5. Other areas that may present peculiarities

Unusual sensitivity to sensory stimuli (light, sounds, textures).

Tips for helping a child with Asperger’s

Next, we are going to know a series of recommendations focused on helping the child with Asperger’s Syndrome  in areas that most usually present difficulties within the educational center: social relationships and work in the classroom.

1. Children with Asperger’s and social relationships

He must be explicitly taught all those aspects that most people learn intuitively. Social relationships are essential for these children to develop their abilities and their life in community. 

Here are several recommendations, observations and tips to support in this area.

  • Greet : How to use the right tone? What is there to pay attention to? What gesture to use? These types of skills can be taught through dramatizations where the codes that must be acquired are accentuated.
  • Start a conversation : How to give the other person the turn, when it is their turn to talk, end a conversation, how to know if the other person is interested. What topics can be related to the conversation and what are not conducive. You can use an object or signal that allows them to guide the interventions in the conversation, as well as television programs.
  • Have a conversation : They should be taught to determine when someone is joking, use metaphors, and what to say at that moment, detect how the other person feels about a certain expression or reaction, and what to do about it, how to differentiate if someone does something on purpose (not by accident) and how you should respond. These types of skills can be developed more easily through role play that allows them to think from the other person’s point of view. It is important how these experiences can help you in your daily life.
  • Language and listening comprehension : Likewise, they can present a difficulty in understanding colloquial language, as they tend to understand communication literally. Consequently, more “exact” phrases should be used (example: “I’m hot” and not “I’m dying of heat”). In addition, we must emphasize our messages so that they are understood, using positive instead of negative forms (“we must remain seated” rather than “we must not get up from the chair”).
  • Create a “peer circle”  that helps them feel more secure in joining the group. For this, it is first necessary to have the collaboration and understanding of the limitations of these people, to delegate activities or occupations that allow them to feel more relaxed and willing to interact and, at the same time, to encourage peers to serve as models in the learning of specific skills, such as: how to say hello to friends, how they can use their hands, how they can position their feet and body; as well as the use of facial expressions according to the conversation or environment / activity.
  • Gradually the degree of relationship and cooperation can be increased, for this, work must be done on aspects such as: physical proximity, tolerance, patience. Respecting the “retreat” spaces is important. That is, do not force him to stay in a group.
  • They learn their communication skills by imitation (intonation, posture, attitude) without having the necessary intuition to match it to a certain environment. For example, they can speak to children as if they were adults, because they were taught to speak to communicate with their parents. In these cases, recordings can be used in which, gradually, they are shown what their language should be depending on the variables. And, in addition, providing spaces to practice them, can be accompanied by the “circle of peers” to support them, ensuring that they themselves can observe the areas to improve. You can exemplify cases where you speak too loud, low, too fast, slow, monotonous …
  • Explicit rules are vital to guide group activities, it must be made clear what the purpose of group work is.
  • The conversations must be clear, transparent, without double meanings, irony or any type of confusion in the sense of the phrase. Ideas must be transmitted without leaving anything “between the lines” so that they can understand us. The purpose you want to communicate must be made extremely clear.
  • Explanations or instructions should be simple, short, concrete, and delivered slowly. We must try to attract attention before starting the conversation, ensure that the child is close and mentions her name, thus reducing the chances that she is distracted and does not understand the explanations. We must try to systematize the instructions so that the steps or points to be transmitted are clearly defined. We can help each other with visual cues, drawings or signs. 
  • Teach them to detect when they are angry or frustrated to define the behaviors that are not allowed and the strategies to channel them. Have an “emergency protocol” with the steps to follow in the event of triggering and disruptive situations.
  • If we must signal them for inappropriate behavior, let us do so in a neutral way and always making it clear what the correct way is and the consequences. Let’s check if you understood the explanation. Let’s not insist on making eye contact.

2. Help a child with Asperger’s at school

In the school setting, children with Asperger’s Syndrome can present several specific difficulties and limitations. That is why teachers must be aware of this disorder in order to adapt some criteria to help children with Asperger’s, always in the hands of  educational psychologists and other professionals.

The mission is that these children integrate in the best possible way in the class dynamics, and that they can follow the courses with the minimum possible obstacles, developing some of their virtues and intellectual potentialities. Here are several tips for this purpose.

  • Let us try to incorporate the interests that the person has expressed into their academic curriculum and use their fixation on that topic in different areas and subjects (for example, in Spanish we can let them write about spaceships, in mathematics we can take the measurements of the spaceship, etc). When you finish your daily work, you can go back to your personal project.
  • Let’s put him in a place free of distractions, that he can feel like working individually. Let us orient him to the materials he requires for each lesson, preferably by making a list and posting it in a fixed and accessible place. Preferably, it is a fixed place.
  • Let’s set short-term goals, clearly defining the quality of work we hope to get from the child. Also, let us inform him about the time he must spend in each activity, helping him with a watch intended only for him. We can use incentives as a reward.
  • Remember to always use attractive visual material (pictograms, maps, diagrams, computer use, schedules, lists …). When the child starts work, let’s set a signal (for example, a green circle on the desk and a red circle when it should finish).
  • When developing material, let us introduce specific keywords, symbols or signs that will allow the child to remember the information. When we evaluate your work, let’s not use open-ended questions. Whenever possible, let us establish closed questions that allow the child to remember the specific information and provide the key words or symbols previously mentioned. Using oral evaluations can make the job easier. Also, let’s give you extra time to finish your assignments or exams.
  • The work material should be expanded, and it should be clearly indicated where the answers or the work area should be placed.
  • Let’s make sure you have the necessary and organized work material. Sometimes it is convenient to define the materials with colors that a certain matter represents.
  • Let us offer support to the child with Asperger’s with a partner who encourages him to finish the work, but tries to help him to be able to do it himself. It is important to emphasize your skills and achievements.
  • Let’s pay attention to emotional indicators, trying to prevent possible alterations in your mood. Let us avoid criticism and punishment as much as possible, and replace them with positive reinforcement, praise and reward.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dorado Moreno, M. (2005). Another way of looking: memories of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Peeters, T. (2008). Autism: from theoretical understanding to educational intervention.

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