An important thing to keep in mind with any instructional strategy you choose to use is to keep the parents involved. Communication is key. Parents are a teacher's best source of information on the behavioral issues of the AS child, as well as strategies that work with their child. No matter what way you teach the student, they will always do better if both the teacher and the parent(s) are on the same page, meaning the efforts at school and at home are the same or similar.
from Life Journey Through Autisim: An Educator's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome (p. 3) (for more info, see Annotated Bibliography page, Online Documents section)

Regular Class Routines & Smooth Transitions
As teachers it is extremely important to understand how to prepare yourself for studetns with Asperger’s in the classroom. In our learnings, we have found that it is beneficial for teachers to implement social skills strategies and supports that will promote a healthy learning environment for these students. Below is a general list of strategies to use in the classroom referring directly to Asperger children:
  • AS children thrive on clear and consistent classroom routines.
  • Class schedules need to be clearly explained on a daily basis and should be displayed visually on the board.
  • They need time to adjust to changes in classroom routine therefore teachers should explain these changes well in advance. Children with AS often do not like surprises and need a structured and organized environment.
  • Take advantage of AS students personal interests. In doing this AS students will become more motivated and attentive in class.
  • Avoid showing authority in a power type way. AS students do not respond with others who are angry or demand authority.
  • Try to connect with students special interests.
  • Provide healthy and appropriate social interaction among the classroom. Displaying direct modeling and role playing in the classroom can help AS students build social skills.
  • Provide a safe classroom environment. Students with AS are often victims of bullying and should not be seated near aggressive students.
  • Use the buddy system in the classroom which will encourage healthy social skills and encourage healthy friendships.

After reading the list we can see many strategies needed in the classroom to give AS students an education that is positive and healthy. To further the points listed above, we have provided examples below that will help give you ideas of how to place these strategies in the classroom.
  1. Clear and consistent expectations and routines: visuals work best for AS students therefore having a written visual schedule in the classroom is most effective. Writing down the schedule of the day, breaks/recess, assemblies, vacation days, etc. The more detail written visually for these students to see, the better results!
  2. Change in routine: if students with AS are given notice when their will be a change in their routine, they are likely to enter the transition smoothly. For example, giving notice that the students are going on a field trip; explain that after first period they will go straight to the bus pick up rather than to science, also making a reminder note on the board for AS students to refer back to helps .
  3. Personal interests: AS students learn best when they are given information that they can relate to or are interested in. Connecting their interests to the curriculum will definetly have a more successful impact on AS students.
  4. Students with AS struggle with social skills: encourage participation in activities that will promote healthy relationships within the classroom. Using role playing in the classroom and also pairing AS students with a “buddy” will help them interact in social settings and build friendships.
  5. Providing a safe environment: these students need to feel respected and safe in the classroom in order to succeed. Giving them the oppurtunity to not be vicitimized by aggressive students and bullies in the classroom will help them move forward in their education. Not placing AS students with these kinds of kids will make their experience better. Things like watching where you place AS students in your classroom seating arrangments, giving groups a “job” so that AS students will be able to share their own ideas, and having a “quiet” place for AS students to go to when they are feeling upset and uncomfortable will create this safe environment.

The advantages of this instructional strategy should be very evident. Students with AS see the most success when teachers implement routines that are consistent. If routines are clear and consistent, the more positive things you will see from AS students. You will start to see them become more comfortable, become more socially interactive, build relationships with others, and ultimately you will see them become stronger at being life long learners. Not only do classroom routines benefit AS students, you will see all your students benefit from these teaching practices. Other children in your classroom can learn from those with AS and in implementing strong routines in the classroom, you will see growth from all students.

I do not know what to say for disadvantages when referring to this instructional strategy. What I can say is that providing AS learners with these types of instructional strategies can be difficult, time consuming, and overwhelming at times. You must also rememeber that not all of the ideas we have given you will work for every AS child, but it is important to note that the more committed you are to the success of these learners, the more likely you and your students will succeed!!!

To conclude, we can see that the most important thing teachers can do for AS students is to provide an overall consistency in our routintes, management strategies, and classroom rules and expectations. If we do this, then students with AS will succeed in the classroom in many aspects. The ideas listed above may not work for all AS students but are their to help teachers make school a easy and healthy transition for our students.

Articles Referenced:
http://proquest.umi.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/pqdweb?index=18&did=118293345&SrchMode=1&sid=12&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1299557781&clientId=12307

There are a number of general principles of school management for most children with Asperger's Syndrome. This link has a very descriptive explanation of how important classroom routines are and the benefits of implementing consistent routines for AS children. Please scroll down the article to "Thoughts on Management in the School". http://www.aspergersyndrome.org/Articles/kelley.aspx

The article discusses what forms of special education intervention and classroom accommodations will support these students' inclusion and achievement in general education classes. The article familiarizes teachers with education strategies to use in the classroom and gives a multitude of specific suggestions for how to do so in your classroom. http://proquest.umi.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/pqdweb?did=576706621&sid=2&Fmt=4&clientId=12307&RQT=309&VName=PQD

A short article written by parents whose children have asperger's, in hopes to help teacher's gain a better understanding about their child's learning diagnosis. http://www.aspergersyndrome.org/Articles/Asperger-s-Syndrome-Guide-For-Teachers.aspx

Using Visuals

Children with Asperger's Syndrome typically exhibit strengths in their visual processing skills, with significant weaknesses in their ability to process information auditorilly. Therefore use of visual methods of teaching, as well as visual support strategies, should always be incorporated to help the child with Asperger's Syndrome better understand his environment. One goal of visuals is to increase the student’s comprehension and communication, especially in the classroom so they are better able to not become frustrated. Teachers can do this through building knowledge about special education and even more so take special education classes to learn some effective instructional strategies for different student’s needs. One very effective instructional strategy is using visual supports with the Asperger’ student.

Using visuals is an important part of the daily classroom routine of teaching. It is important to display what is happening that day, what is going on during the week and what rules exist in the classroom. Some teachers use just words, but some use a variety of words and pictures to set up a routine. Using pictures as well as words is a more effective method because it will help meet the needs of all learners. Some learners who are non-verbal will rely one any type of communication through words and pictures.

The non-verbal students and non-reading students will use a variety of communication strategies through pictures. One that is common in schools is the use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). Using a picture system is beneficial for not only the student but also the other students in the class and the teacher because everyone can understand a picture. It is not frustrating for the student to use, such as words might be, and everyone can understand, unlike sign language. PECS is a binder that has different categories of pictures in it. The front of the binder can be used to put the commonly used pictures such as the picture for ‘help’ and ‘washroom’. It could also be used to display what the routine for the day is. When the teacher needs to use the PECS to speak with the teacher, the appropriate pictures can be placed along a detachable strip and given to the teacher or another student when communication is needed. This is also good for Asperger’s students who may struggle with speaking to another person. The student can be asked to say the word that goes along with the picture they are using. This is beneficial because it gets the students saying their needs but they are not made to create full sentences until they are comfortable.

Another way pictures are beneficial as visuals in the classroom is through the use of visual schedules. The same pictures used for PECS can be used to create a visual schedule. A visual schedule can be simple such as the daily routine put onto a schedule to help a student with transitions and to not have unexpected interruptions in their day. This helps their understanding of certain situations increases through the use of visual schedules so the student is better able to prepare themselves for an appropriate response, such as being able to handle a transition in an appropriate way. This is one way the universal language of pictures can be used but there are also others.

Social stories were originally developed for students on the Autism Spectrum. Through studies it has shown that social stories can be used to have a positive effect on student’s behaviour. This will improve the students understanding of certain social situations. A social story can be written about how to respond when being asked a question. It will have the words with a picture above the word stating why and how the student will respond. If the student reads this story many times it can prove successful for teaching the student a life skill. It is important to keep the social stories around for the students when they need them. Teachers can organize social stories into an accessible binder for the student. Social stories can also be used for the student to write to the teacher. There are computer programs available that allow for students to create their own stories to share thoughts with teachers, friends or even a pen pal.

When it comes to students being able to properly respond to a situation they are presented with, visuals are a good tool for them to think through their response. If students are able to look at a diagram to see how they are feeling with what an appropriate response may be then that should be available and posted somewhere the can see it. If a student is feeling very angry, the best choice for them may be to go for a walk or go to the sensory room. It is also important for students to be able to see how they are feeling on a rating scale. The student should be able to point out if they are feeling calm or anxious because it is important for the student to recognize how they are feeling and be able to pick for themselves, using the help of visuals if needed, how to best react to a situation. Another great method is having rule cards for areas the student may struggle with. These rule cards are short little pictures with words showing the students, for example, how to appropriately act in class. It is a small visual reminder of how to act appropriate and behave in a situation.

As a teacher it is your role to decide how visual strategies should be best implemented for the student. It is important to think of the child’s age, cognitive abilities and abilities to speak to decide how to implement these strategies. For younger students the methods would have to be simple and very easy to understand. It is also important to decide if some of them will be universal for the classroom such as a rating scale taped on the wall, or a visuals of responding to certain situations taped up. The teacher has to decide what way is best to implement the strategy after learning about the class and the particular student.




The two websites I used to gain more knowledge on visuals in the classroom are as listed:
http://www.specialed.us/autism/asper/asper11.html
http://proquest.umi.com.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/pqdweb?index=2&did=1265581911&SrchMode=1&sid=5&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1299556649&clientId =12307

Communication

Many children with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty with communication skills. They specifically have difficulty with understanding non-verbal cues such as the use of eye contact and body language, maintaining two-way conversations, and the ability to interpret figurative language or words with implied meanings. According to Saskatchewan Education, "they may have difficulties with the rules of conversation. Students with AS may interrupt or talk over the speech of others, may make irrelevant comments and have difficulty initiating and terminating conversations." (50-51). The following conversation is an example of communication confusion:

A child with Asperger's Syndrome was participating in a local basketball clinic. He was playing very well, and the coach made the comment, "Wow! Your mom must have put gas in your shoes this morning". The child quickly looked at his mother with a worried expression. His mother shook her head "No" and encouraged him to keep on playing. The child responded to the coach, "Not today."

Retrieved from: http://www.specialed.us/autism/asper/asper11.html

In the classroom, it is important to teach social communication skills through direct instruction to benefit children with AS. Here are some ways to do so:
  • Use visual support strategies such as social stories to teach the appropriate way to greet somebody, and have two-way conversations.
  • Role play communication and everyday conversations between different people. Focus on narrative skills such as retelling past events since this is a difficult and confusing task for many children with AS.
  • Teach rules and cues regarding turn-taking in conversation. A neat way to do so is using a visual “my turn” card that is passed back and forth during a conversation to visually indicate whose turn it is.

Here are some excellent ways to make a child with AS more comfortable and less anxious in the classroom:
  • Keep auditory information and prompting to a minimum, and use visual cues whenever possible.
  • When giving instructions or directions orally, have pictures and written directions as well.
  • Encourage the student to ask for directions to be repeated or simplified if he or she does not understand.
  • Break down tasks into smaller steps or present it another way
  • Provide concrete explanations keeping in mind that children with AS will often take things literally and concretely.
  • Simplify your language and avoid sarcasm.
  • Give specific choices rather than open ended ones.
  • Remember to stay positive and reinforce the student that they are doing great. Do not focus on what they cannot do.

The following is from Saskatchewan Education's document on Teaching Students with Autism. It is from the section labeled Educating Students with Asperger's Syndrome and offers their strategies in working with communication:
communication.jpg

When discussing difficulties in communication, teachers need to be aware of the specific difficulties that children with AS face.
There are four categories of communication that teachers could focus their instruction on when working with students with AS. These categories include pragmatics, prosody, semantics, and auditory processing. The following are definitions of each retrieved from dictionary.com

Pragmatics: “the analysis of language in terms of the situational context within which utterances are made, including the knowledge and beliefs of the speaker and the relation between speaker and listener.” In other words, it is the use of the language in a social context.
Prosody: “the stress and intonation patterns of an utterance.” The pitch, stress and rhythm of speech.
Semantics: “the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.”
Auditory Processing: “the ability to take in and make sense of individuals speech sounds rapidly and efficiently enough to comprehend spoken language.”

Now that we know what they mean, we can figure out ways to use them as strategies in teaching communication in the classroom. The following are lists of ways that students can learn these communication skills.
Pragmatics:
  • Teach appropriate opening comments and greetings
  • Encourage students to admit “I don’t know”
  • Use speech and drama activities to develop conversation
  • Teach them how to seek clarification or assistance when confused
  • Model sympathetic comments
Prosody:
  • Teach how to modify rhythm and pitch in oral speech
  • Model how to stress key words
  • Model how to express emotion through tone of voice
Semantics:
  • Encourage students to think how his/her comment could be misinterpreted
  • Explain metaphors and figures of speech
  • Explain the meaning of key slang terms that are often used
Auditory Processing:
  • Encourage students to ask for instructions/directions to be repeated
  • Simplify instructions/directions
  • Show everything visually/written when possible

The advantages to teaching communication skills to children with Asperger's Syndrome are endless. They do not simply 'know' proper social cues and it is important that they are taught these skills or they will have difficulty making and continuing conversations with people for the rest of their lives. With the knowledge of the specific areas that need to be focused on, teachers will be able to incorporate the strategies mentioned in a variety of ways in the classroom.

The disadvantages to this strategy are few, however, it does take a lot of time-something that teachers often lack. Social stories and role playing will have to be planned and weaved into the curriculum to be able to teach communication skills to the students. It will be frustrating at times, having to give directions with visuals, and written on the board, instead of simply orally telling the students, but the advantages are too important to ignore. Students with AS will benefit strongly from the education of how to communication and have social conversations, to help them feel less anxious and lessen the confusion that they have in social situations.

Articles Referenced:
Saskatchewan Education. (1999, October). Teaching students with Autism: A guide for teachers. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/eK8hLN

Stokes, S. (n.d.). Children with Asperger's Syndrome: Characteristics/learning styles and intervention strategies. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/6wodQ5

Kelly, Kathy. Asperger’s Syndrome: A Workshop for Teachers and Parents. Retrieved from: //www.myoutofcontrolteen.com/files/Aspergers_PDF_XI.pdf//

Building Social Skills

"One of the biggest challenges for students who have [AS] is understanding the rules of social interaction--rules that many of us learn and take for granted."(p. 56) This challenge often leads AS children to break important social rules, such as:
  • maintaining an acceptable social distance,
  • making appropriate and relevant comments, and
    • for example, students with AS may engage in what can be called one-sided conversations, which involves the student giving more information than the listener wants, in essence, ignoring the 'give and take' style of the conversation.
  • judging the timing of conversational dialogue.
from (Marks et al, 1999, p. 56)

Children with AS often have communication impairments which can make socializing with their peers difficult. Some of these impairments include:
  1. atypical eye gaze patterns (described as 'lost' or unfocused)
  2. limited facial expressions (they hold their face rigid or immobile)
  3. use of few gestures (ex/ hand gestures) (p. 86)
Children with AS also have "difficulties in social uses of language, especially in conversations with others" (p. 88). They are "described as being very literal and concrete in their use and interpretation of language" (p. 89), which can lead to communication issues.
from Learning and Behavior Problems in Asperger Syndrome, an edited volume by Margot Prior (for more info, see Annotated Bibliography page, Books section)

A Framework
When developing strategies and interventions for AS students, you may find it useful to keep these two principles in mind.
  1. Your program should be based on the cognitive learning characteristics of your AS student. Because AS students have strong rote memories and visual memories skills, it would be beneficial to incorporate visual materials in your program, as well as written scripts that identify concrete sequential steps. These will take advantage of your student's strong memorization ability through the use of a visual medium.
  2. Your program should appeal to your AS student's rational thinking. Because AS students can understand and, in fact, seem to prefer quantitative information, having them collect specific data on social behaviors through observing the social interactions of others can be a valuable technique. It will help them to understand how others, such as their peers, engage in social interactions. Another good idea is to provide your AS student with general rules which will support their tendency to be 'rule-governed'.
from (Marks et al, 1999, p. 57)

Strategies

There are many strategies that can be used to support social skill development in students with AS. Some strategies are:
  • teaching the student coping strategies. These could include:
    • teaching the student key phrases,
    • providing the student with opportunities to reflect on their experiences,
    • providing the student with positive and concrete feedback, and
    • encouraging the student to use self-talk strategies. (ex/ a student who gets angry when he makes mistakes is taught to self-verbalize the phrase "Everyone makes mistakes.")
  • building specific social skills with the student. This includes teaching them how to read social cues and how to interpret the social behavior of others.. Three specific strategies come in handy with this general strategy.
    1. Have the student conduct structured observations of social interaction. These interactions should be actual events or television programs. During these observations, the student should take data on relevant themes, such as length of conversation, turn-taking, or reading body language. The key to this strategy is that the student be able to discuss their observations with another person. This person can help the AS student begin to 'break the code' of social interactions. From here, the student can be guided towards developing a list of social rules.
    2. Coach or debrief social interactions with the student. This can be done by involving a peer or adult in the actual social situation.
    3. Teach the student conversational skills. These skills can include:
      • questioning skills,
      • positive listening skills,
      • visual and concrete representations of reciprocal conversations,
      • social scripts, social stories (see more below), and role-playing, and
      • what to do when it all breaks down.
  • providing the student with ample social opportunities. Effective socialization strategies include:
    • building social opportunities for students, as well as providing them with time to practice social interaction skills that are connected to the student's interest areas, and
    • teaching the student critical skills in an area of interest to them. These skills should build proficiency and social status of the student.
  • creating a safe and accepting learning environment for the student. This includes:
    • creating a safe school environment for the student,
    • having supportive individuals and safe places available for the students, and
    • educating personnel and peers at the school (and in the community) about AS.
from (Marks et al, 1999, p. 58-60)

Social Stories: How can they help with social skill development?

social_stories.JPG
part of table from (Ryan et al, 2011, p. 59)

Social stories are a instructional strategy that provides a "brief descriptive story for children to help them better understand specific social situations" (p. 61). These stories "describe 'a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format" (p. 61-62).

The goal of social stories is very important to keep in mind. It is not to change an individual's behavior. Instead, the goal is to "expose the individual to a better understanding of an event" (p. 62). This exposure in turn encourages the student towards an alternate, and more proper, response. (p. 62)

Social stories can be used in two ways. The first way is to encourage the replacement of the student's current inappropriate behavior, for example, screaming at the teacher in order to gain their attention. The second way is to promote prosocial behaviors, such as introducing themselves to a person upon entering a room. (p. 62)

Social stories are typically presented to the student before the situation is to occur for real. This is a way of rehearsing the scenario before it even happens. They should be presented in a way that keeps in mind the cognitive abilities of the student they are for. Namely, they should be both written and illustrated.

Some guidelines for developing a social story are as follows:
  • they should "range from 5 to 10 sentences"
  • they should "define a specific target behavior of concern"
  • they should "identify an appropriate replacement behavior"
  • they should "be written from the child's perspective"
  • they should "include pictures or drawings to help the child relate to the desired behavior"
  • they should include the important elements of a story, including "a title, introduction, body, and conclusion"
  • "the format of the social story should be predictable". It should not be "a list of tasks", but should instead "describe behaviors rather than simply directing the child" (above bullets-p. 62)
from (Ryan et al, 2011)

For an example of a social story, please visit this link. The example is on page 30. Some information on social stories is found on page 29.

Benefits of Teaching Social Skills

The major benefit of teaching social skills to students with AS is that social skills are a major part of our daily life. If you don't have the skills, you have trouble making it through the day. Having social skills also helps children with AS to fit in with their peers and others in the community, thus helping to reduce stress and anxiety about not fitting in.

Disadvantages of Teaching Social Skills

The biggest disadvantage of teaching social skills to AS students is the it can be very time consuming and a lot of hard work. I think, however, that it is well worth the effort for all of the advantages it has.

Benefits of Using Social Stories

A benefit to using social stories with students who have AS is that they are a great way of using stories to teach. Students definitely learn through story. Another benefit to using social stories is that it allows the student to 'experience' the situation before it occurs, thus allowing the student more success when the situation does eventually come about.

Disadvantages of Using Social Stories

One disadvantage of using social stories with student who have AS is that they can be time consuming, both to use and to develop. There are also specific guidelines that must be followed in order for the social story to be effective. However, I believe social stories are very beneficial and should be used as often as possible with children who have AS.

Articles Referenced:
Marks, S. U., Schrader, C., Levine, M., Hagie, C., et al. (1999, November/December). Social skills for social ills: Supporting the social skills development of adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome. Teaching Exceptional Children, 32 (2). Retrieved from http://bit.ly/hoO29W

Ryan, J. B., Hughes, E. M., Katsiyannis, A., McDaniel, M., & Sprinkle, C. (2011, January/February). Research-based educational practices for students with Autisim Spectrum Disorder. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43 (3). Retrieved from http://bit.ly/gtYQNX