While Asperger’s Syndrome will no longer have a separate diagnostic category, educators are well aware that the essential features include severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (American Psychiatric Association [DSM-IV-TR], 2000).
In the most recent revision of the Diagnostic Manual, DSM-5, to be published in May 2013, the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) designation will cover everyone with some form of autism, from those who are most severely affected and cannot speak, to those with its mildest forms, previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. While Asperger’s Syndrome will no longer have a separate diagnostic category, educators are well aware that the essential features include severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (American Psychiatric Association [DSM-IV-TR], 2000). Teachers are seeking more ways to address the general education curriculum, along with the social and organizational needs of the students they teach with such characteristics. Teaching both social and academic curriculum is a daunting task. Teachers report that if asked to design an environment specifically geared to be stressful to a person with ASD, you would probably come up with something that looked a lot like a school!
Evidenced Based Practices that WORK!
Antecedent Interventions– To create the right environment, Kluth (2003) suggests considerations for the reduction of extraneous sounds. One suggestion is allowing the student to listen to soft music with headsets during class times that include excessive noise. Earplugs are another solution suggested. To assist students with changes in the routine, it is recommended to prepare the student ahead of time so excessive anxiety will not arise. Frequent changes in routines make it difficult for the student to focus on the curriculum due to preoccupation with what will be coming up next in the school day. Examining your environment to minimize sounds and preparing students for transitions are great antecedents to use proactively, before problems arise.
Structured Work Systems– Cumine, Leach, and Stevenson (1998) indicate that Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children, or TEACCH, has 4 main elements. These elements include: the physical structure of the classroom, a visual schedule of the day’s activities, an explanation of the type and length of the work expected, and instructions presented visually in addition to verbally. Researchers assert that these strategies provide “scaffolding” for students on the autism spectrum.
Visual Supports- Ozonoff, Dawson, & McPartland (2002), elaborate on the suggestion for using visual signs with students on the autism spectrum. The research indicates that visual instructions and schedules help the students to feel more secure and less stressed so the mind can direct its attention to learning.
Social Narratives and Social Skills Groups– Ozonoff, Dawson, and McPartland (2002) suggest that the student’s strengths be maximized at the same time as the student’s interests in order to increase self-esteem. By using the student’s preoccupation with one individual topic, there is a greater chance for engagement and, therefore, learning. Using Power Cards with the use of an individual’s interests can support behavior in a classroom. The hidden curriculum highlights an aspect of learning that is not obvious to students with ASD. This aspect of learning includes the basic skills of daily living that are skills other students seem to just know. For example, social awareness that alerts most students to what is inappropriate material for conversation may need to be taught explicitly to a student with ASD. Social stories and acting lessons/ video modeling are helpful ways to provide examples of proper actions in various settings and situations.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Cumine,V., Leach, J., & Stevenson, G. (1998). Asperger syndrome, a practical guide for teachers. London, England: David Fulton.
Kluth, P. (2003). You’re going to love this kid! Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom. Baltimore,MD: Paul H. Brooks.
Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G., & McPartland, J. (2002). A parent’s guide to asperger syndrome & high-functioning autism.New York, NY: Guilford Press.