Author: Shoshana Motechin
Dr. Mac's Note: As of May 2013, Aspergers Syndrome/Disorder is no longer included as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Students exhibiting the symptoms listed for Aspergers will now be identified as having ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Many individuals will refer to these youngsters as having "high functioning autism". This page remains on the BehaviorAdvisor.com site for historical reference. The intervetnion strategies still apply.
What is Asperger(’s) Syndrome?
Austrian Hans Asperger identified this condition in 1944. Asperger’s is a neurological (brain-based) disorder on the "autistic spectrum". It affects social perception, interactions with others , language use, and nonverbal communication. People with Asperger’s look typical, may have average to superior intelligence, but lack the social awareness and skills needed to connect well with their world. There is a great debate as to where Asperger’s fits in the autistic spectrum. According to Uta Firth in her book Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, Asperger’s is described as being on the autism spectrum disorder. She describes Asperger(’s) Syndrome as “having a dash of Autism”. Others disagree and believe that Asperger(’s) Syndrome is a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) or that Asperger(’s) Syndrome shares characteristics of Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), or as High Functioning Autism (HFA).
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- IVtr) a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome requires that four of the five listed criteria be present, including at least two indicators of a qualitative disability in social interactions, (e.g., serious impairments in peer relationships,
social reciprocity, nonverbal behaviors, and empathy) and at least one in the category of restricted interest and stereotyped behaviors or rituals (e.g., rigid adherence to rules or routine, preoccupation with a narrow interest, parts or objects, repetitive motor movements).
Many individuals who fall within the category of having Asperger’s Syndrome are often misdiagnosed with ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, bi-polar, receptive language, oppositional defiant and emotional disorders. Many children with Asperger’s are seen as being “bad kids.”
*Be aware that Aspergers Syndrome is scheduled to be removed from DSM-5. These youngsters will, in 2013 be relabeled as "Autistic". For more information on this change, view the video podcast on DSM-5 in the www.BehaviorAdvisor.com store
Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome:
- May move into the personal space of others, not recognizing body language, facial and verbal cues that he/she has transgressed
- May not make direct eye contact
- Lack of emotional reciprocity or empathy
- Rigid and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
- Stereotyped and repetitive motor movements
- Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
- Friends and new acquaintances may be acknowledged with tight and enthusiastic hugs instead of formal greetings like “Hi, how are you?”
- May begin to talk about the latest topic of concern which is of interest only to themselves (e.g., train schedules), may be age inappropriate or boring but the person does not pick up on looks of disinterest or snickers from the group.
- Speech and language peculiarities such as: stilted and formal language, voice too loud or monotone or hyperverbal.
- Hypersensitivity to noises or smells
- Cognitive abilities which are average or above average (They are often known as “little professors”)
- Difficulties with subjects that require inferential reasoning, abstract concepts, problem solving, extensive calculations or social judgements.
- Fine motor problems which lead to poor penmanship and low writing motivation
- Gross motor clumsiness which leads to poor skills in competitive sports and physical activities
- Depression, frequent school absences, low school motivation due to being socially vulnerable and easy targets for teasing and bullying
Helping Students with Asperger’s Syndrome:
- Obtain In-Depth Training - learn the differences among the children with Asperger’s in elementary, middle school and high school.
- Understand How Social Impairments Impact Learning and Peer Relationships - (a) some students require weekly sessions with trained staff members who can help them “solve the puzzles” they encounter in everyday activities and help alleviate depression caused by perception of social failure. (b)Provide ongoing social skill instruction to help students form relationships with peers.
- Recognize Students’ Strengths - Many students with Asperger’s will go on to make great contributions to society. However, we must tap into their strengths and offer support so that they do not dropout of school because academic and social demands are too high.
- Implement Creative Programming - Through the student’s IEP, teachers can develop class schedules which will be motivating and challenging to the student while addressing his/her needs.
- Intervene Early - The earlier intervention begins, the earlier students can learn the needed skills for adulthood and friendship.
Role of Inclusion Teachers:
1. Carefully structure seating arrangements and group work
Children with Asperger’s should not be seated near class bullies or aggressive students. Rather, sit them next to students who can serve as a “peer buddy.”
a) See where the child works most effectively; near the teacher or near a quiet open space.
b) Avoid self-selection when students are being assigned to a group.
c) Teach students how to function as a team and accept all members.
2. Provide a Safe Haven
Students with Asperger’s can become overwhelmed by noise, crowds, chaos or trying to engage in social interactions (e.g., an assembly, recess time), which can lead to anxiety and stress.
a) Offer an alternative to attending these events.
b) Try earplugs or headphones to assist in screening out troubling noise.
c) Make sure the child has a trusted contact person with whom they feel comfortable with (e.g., special
education teacher, school psychologist, guidance counselor or principal, older responsible pupil).
d) Give access to a quiet, private place (e.g., school library, tutoring room, empty classroom or office) where the
student can spend lunchtime, study hall or any other free time alone, can rest and refresh themselves
to alleviate the stress that accompanies the constant effort to fit in.
3. Prepare for Changes in the Routine
Since most students with Asperger’s thrive on clear expectations and routines there are many different methods a teacher can use to help create smooth transitions.
a) Write class schedules and time frames on the blackboard, or use a picture schedule for younger
b) Designate classroom jobs, space and time with certain activities (e.g., computer).
c) Explain changes in the routine well in advance (e.g., “On Thursday, we will have an assembly. That means you
go straight from your second period class to the auditorium.”).
4. Use Available Resources/ Make Needed Accommodations
Students with Asperger’s often respond well to visuals, graphic models and technology. They often have impaired gross or fine motor skills
a) Encourage the use of computers for written assignments and exams.
b) Allow for extra time or quiet space if needed.
c) When significant amounts of notes need to be taken, pair the student with Asperger’s with a
buddy in order that the student can photocopy the notes missed.
d) Allow time on the Internet. The effort and anxiety associated with interpersonal connections
is greatly reduced because then students only have to deal with the written word. However,
limit the amount of time on the computer in order that a potential obsession does not develop
and that the computer does not become a substitute for human contact.
5. Connect with Each Other, Parents, Internet, and Other Support Groups
a) To avoid the feelings of many teachers and families who feel isolated in their attempts to
support students with Asperger’s, create regular communication through meetings, telephone
or e-mail among inclusion and special education teachers and parents.
b) Create a Home School Coordination- Improve the behavior of this student by combining school
and home effort. Work on goals that the child should meet. Then send home a note indicating
if the child has met that goal. If s/he has done so, reward him/her (in school and at home if the
appropriate behavior is being exhibited there as well).
6. Promote Positive Peer Interactions
a) Create ways to connect the student with empathic peers in order to promote social acceptance
Use role playing and games - Try the program “Magic Circle” where students are seated in a circle
and are encouraged to share their feelings and listen to others. This type of activity helps
promote active listening skills and recognition of each individual
b) Help the student engage in successful conversations and reflection by using comic strips, since
the pictures, words and symbols identify what the people say and do and emphasize what
people may be thinking. Social stories which describe typical social situations and explain
the meaning of various comments and identify appropriate responses are also good.
c) Direct the child to participate in activities or clubs in which their abilities might neutralize their
social deficiencies (e.g., math groups). Make sure they are not involved in groups that are
frequented by bullies.
d) Identify the student’s special gifts and teach him/her to share those gifts through tutoring,
class presentations, or community service.
7. Don’t Take it Personally
a) Don’t be insulted by the student who interrupts, speaks too loudly or misses your jokes.
b) Separate the child from the syndrome (be perturbed with the behavior, but support the child) and try
to imagine the world as viewed through his eyes.
c) Model warmth and acceptance. Refrain from impatience and irritation so peers will too.
8. Help Your Classroom Become a Caring Environment
a) Create and maintain your classroom as a safe, supportive and accepting community by
expecting and ensuring that all students respect, support and take responsibility for each other.
b) Help create a strong sense of belonging among all the diverse students in your classroom.
Personal Challenges for Students
with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Listed below are behaviors that a child on the Autistic Spectrum might encounter a daily basis. Autistic spectrum disorder includes students with conditions such as autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, and Aspergers syndrome.
- wanting to be left alone at times
- trouble with back and forth social interactions
- little sense of other people’s boundaries
- inappropriate use of eye contact, avoidance or extended staring
- poor use of nonverbal gestures
- not accepting hugging, cuddling or touching unless self initiated
Interest and Activities:
- repeatedly watching videos or video segments
- lining up and or/ ordering objects
- strong attachment to inanimate objects
- pacing or running back and forth, round and round
- very sensitive to sounds
- resisting change
- difficulty waiting
- history of eating problems
- defensive to touch which isn’t self initiated
- lack of fear or real danger
Qualitative Impairments in Communication:
- problem with getting the order of words in sentences correct
- problem understanding jokes
- problems answering questions
- problems with reciprocal conversations
- problems using speed, tone and volume appropriately
- difficulty understanding abstract concepts
- well developed long term memory
- good visual skills
- delayed response time
- needs help to problem solve
- short attention span to some activities and not others
- problems organizing
Observable Problems Behaviors:
- aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, pinching
- temper tantrums
- toileting problems
- low motivation
- tired easily
- motor planning- can’t make body do what it needs to do
Environmental Challenges that Lower Ability
to Function Competently
- not being understood
- not understanding
- not having choices
- making a mistake
- being touched
- alterations in school, work, home, community
- time changes
- staff or teacher absent
- cancellation of event or activity
- having to wait too long
- not having enough space
- losing things of value
- surrounded by too much movement
- surrounded by too much visual stimuli
- being corrected
- being denied
- being late
- being ignored
- being left out
- being teased
- being scolded
- reacts to unexpected sound
- fears some noises
- making self induced noises
- confused about direction of sound
- distracted by certain sounds
- has been diagnosed as having a visual problem
- is sensitive to light
- has difficulty tracking
- upset by things looking different
- closely examines objects or hands
- sensitive to smells
- explores environment by smelling
- reacts strongly to some smells
- ignores strong odors
- defensive about being touched
- prefers deep touching rather than soft
- dislikes feel of certain clothing
- over or under dresses for temperature
- upset by sticky, gooey hands
- has an eating problem
- dislikes certain textures or foods
- tastes non-edibles
- seems fearful in space
- arches back when held or moved
- likes rocking, swinging, spinning
- avoids balancing activities
- has difficulty with timeperception
- problems with use of some tools
- difficulty with body in space
- relies on knowing location of furniture
Social Skills which may be Personal Challenges
Personal Management/Self Control:
- finishing work
- taking care of belongings
- turning in assignments on time
- changing activities
- accepting correction
- taking turns
- offering help, comfort
- inviting others to join
- asking for a favor
- letting someone know you are hurt or sick
Reciprocating Social Interactions Appropriately:
- commenting on a topic
- answering questions
- accepting help
- responding to teasing
- making a choice
- giving eye contact appropriately
Manner of Interaction:
- being polite
- being kind
- being considerate
- being honest
- not walking away when someone is talking
Abstract Social Concepts:
- being good
- come when called to a group
- stay in certain places
- participate with group
- follow group rules
- winning and losing
- pick up, clean up, straighten up
There is a more extensive list and manual with other information. If interested please contact:
Kentucky Department of Education
17th Floor CPT
500 Mero Street
Frankfort, KY 40601
You can visit their website at http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/IEP_Behav_Forms.html
Effective Behavior Interventions of Problem Behaviors
What makes us do what we do?
Instructional/ Reinforcement History
In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors, teachers (and parents) need to take into consideration a variety of aspects.
1. Hypothesize the function of the behavior
- Social Attention
- Escape/ avoidance
- Wants tangible item or activity
- Sensory Feedback
2. Gather Information
a. Antecedent : Does the behavior occur……
- When you are attending to other people in the room?
- Following a request to perform a difficult task?
- When a request for an item or activity is denied?
- Repeatedly, in the same way, for long periods of time, even when no on is around?
b. Consequence: When the behavior occurs, do others….
- Attend to the student?
- Leave the student alone?
- Negotiate or give the desired item/activity
- Allow the student to engage in inappropriate behavior?
3. Plan an Intervention
a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed?
- Move student closer to teacher.
- Limit materials available to student.
- Remove distracters.
b. Based on information gathered, determine how people should react to the challenging behavior each time it occurs.
- Plan to ignore.
- Plan to attend.
- Plan to remove privileges.
- Plan to redirect.
4. Identify a Replacement Behavior
a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the challenging behavior?
- Manipulating a stress ball or twist pen to replace inappropriate hand movements
- Teaching the student to ask if he can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior
- Teaching student to raise his hand to replace attention-seeking behaviors
- Teaching the student to communicate his wants appropriately to replace escape/ avoidance behaviors
b. Complete replacement behavior planning guide with team
-Which behavior is the team going to target for replacement?
1.What functionally equivalent behavior is the team going to train in place of the problem behavior?
2. In what situations will training occur?
3. Who will be responsible for conducting the training sessions?
4. What motivation system will be implemented during training?
5. Describe how the team will evaluate if and how the student uses the new response.
Promoting Positive Classroom Behavior of Students
The suggestions written below can be used to help children with Asperger’s but can be used in any classroom to help promote a positive atmosphere.
a) Rules - Establish, teach and enforce classroom rules. Rules should be positively stated and identify the specific behaviors you wish to see displayed
b) Premack Principle - Method of maintaining and increasing compliance with rules through the use of positive reinforcement. A desired activity is available to students on the completion of an undesired activity (e.g., a student who stays in their seat for a period of time can earn an opportunity to work on the computer).
c) Contingency Contracts - Students and teachers formalize agreements concerning specific behavior for the exchange of reinforcers by writing an agreement. It outlines the behaviors and consequences of a specific behavior management system. (See the link on this site titled "Contracts")
d) Self Recording - The student monitors his or her own behaviors by using a data collection system. Students can be taught to increase their on task behavior during a class by placing a + in a box when they are paying attention for several minutes and a -–if they are off task. (See the links on this site titled "Behavioral Recording" and "Self Monitoring")
e) Self Evaluation - A self-management system that has been used to promote appropriate behavior in many general education programs. Students are taught to evaluate their in class behavior using a rating scale. For example, a student can rate his on task and disruptive behaviors using a 0-5 point rating scale ("unacceptable" to "excellent"). The student earns points (which can be exchanged for reinforcers) based on both student behavior and the accuracy of his ratings.
Ways to Decrease Inappropriate Classroom Behaviors
Listed below are various ways to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate ones for children with Asperger’s.
- Redirection - Introduce a novel stimulus to recapture the student’s attention by delivering verbal and nonverbal cues to the student to stop a misbehavior, offering assistance with a task, engaging him/her in conversation, reminding him/her to focus attention on the task, or modeling calm and controlled behavior.
- Interspersed Requests - Used to motivate students to perform a difficult or unpleasant task by initially asking them to perform several easier tasks, which they can complete successfully in a short amount of time. This helps promote “behavioral momentum”.
- Differential Reinforcement - Techniques used to decrease inappropriate behaviors by reinforcing the occurrence of positive behaviors, which cannot coexist with the appropriate behavior. (See the link on this site titled "Differential Reinforcement")
- Extinction - A strategy in which the positive reinforcers maintaining a behavior are withheld or terminated, resulting in the reduction in the behavior. (See the link on this site titled "What is ABA" ---then read about 'Ignoring')
- Checklists and Schedules - Provide visual structure and motivation needed to complete assignments and remain on task by checking off assignments and activities upon their completion.
Adaptation of Oral Presentations/Lectures for Students
Some students require modifications to be made in order for them to understand what is being taught. There are various types of adaptations. Listed below are a few which can be used to help any student achieve to their highest potential:
Pausing - to help students retain lecture content pause for 2 minutes every 5-7 consecutive minutes of lecturing. During the pause students can discuss and review content, ask questions or engage in visual imagery.
Visual Aids - Visual supports such as charts, graphs, lists and pictures can be used to highlight main points, maintain attention, promote eye contact and address the needs of visual learners.
Guided Notes - Outlined and guided notes in which the student fills in the blanks provide a foundation for note taking, and promotes on task behavior. Since many children with Asperger’s have difficulty with fine motor skills such as writing, this is a method that can be implemented to help them throughout lectures.
Active Student Responding(To encourage active participation)
choral responding- in which students answer simultaneously on a cue from a teacher during fast paced lessons.
Response Cards - cards are simultaneously held up by all students to display their responses to questions or problems presented by the teacher
Cooperative Learning Groups/ Peer Tutoring - helps with social interaction
- Use repetition by asking students to answer the same questions several times during a class period.
- Reinforce correct responses and appropriate behavior with descriptive statements that identify what made the answer "right".
- Group student with peers who participate and attend.
- Select students randomly to respond and remind them that they may be called on next.
-Change activities frequently.
-Vary the presentation and response modes of instructional activities.
- Decrease the complexity and syntax of statements.
Affective Education Strategies to Implement
in Any Classroom
Rapport - Maintaining rapport with students can help establish a positive classroom environment. Teachers can establish rapport by talking to students about topics in which they are interested, sharing their own interests, providing opportunities for students to perform activities in which they excel, and complimenting students.
Humor - Good natured joking helps develop a good relationships and a positive classroom atmosphere. Humor helps students see a situation from another perspective and decreases the likelihood of conflicts.
Dialoguing - Dialoging involves meeting with the students to assist them in identifying the problem, discovering their perspective on that problem, phrase it in their words, and discussing solutions for resolving the problem. It helps students understand their behaviors and problem solve alternatives to inappropriate behaviors.
There are various web sites that teachers and parents can use as resources to find more information on the topic of Asperger’s Syndrome. Listed below are a few that include information such as research initiatives, upcoming events, educational approaches, training opportunities, support groups and books/videos to order.
www.teacch.com (an organization affiliated with the University of N. Carolina called “Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children)
Resources for More Information
*Clicking on the images of the books that you see below, will take you to Amazon.com where you can preview the texts and decide whether to purchase them. These books can be purchased at any on-line book store, but buying them from Amazon.com (after clicking on the icons here) supports www.BehaviorAdvisor.com A small percentage of the purchase price is returned to this site.
Atwood, T. Asperger’s Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals.
Ehlers, S., Gillberg. C., & Wing, L. (1999). A screening questionnaire for Asperger’s Syndrome and other high-functioning autism spectrum disorders of school age children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 129-141
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Call 1-800-328-0272
Luke Jackson Freaks, geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A Guide to Adolescence.
Klin, A., Volkmar, F. & Sparrow, S. Asperger Syndrome.
Rebecca Moyes Addressing the challenging behavior of children with high-functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome in the classroom: A guide for teachers and parents.
Osonoff, S., Dawson, G. & McParland, J. A parent's guide to Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism.
Safran, S. P. (2001). Asperger’s Syndrome: The emerging Challenge to Special education. Exceptional Children, 67, 151-160
Robert Sanders Overcoming Asperger's
Ashley Stanford Asperger syndrome and long-term relationships.
Liane Holliday Willey Asperger syndrome in the family: Redefining normal.
Liane Holliday Willey Asperger syndrome in adolescence: Living with the ups, the downs, and the things in between.
Matt Winter. Asperger Syndrome: What Teachers Need To Know.
Other Helpful Links On This Site(www.BehaviorAdvisor.com)
Functional Behavior Assessment
Hmm...wasn't repetitive pacing listed as a symptom of Aspergers?
No, our mascot doesn't have Aspergers...it's more like pain-in-the-asspergers.
Shoshana Motechin wrote this page while a graduate student in the Behavior Disorders Program of the Department of Special Education of Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is not responsible for the bad joke under the dog.