Tips: Students with ASPERGER'S Syndrome

Do not take misbehavior personally.. People with autism are, by virtue of their disability, egocentric. Most have extreme difficulty reading the reactions of others.

Use and interpret speech literally. Until you know the capabilities of the individual, you should avoid:
idioms (eg., save your breath, jump the gun,second thoughts)
double meanings (most jokes have double meanings)
sarcasm (e.g., saying, "Great!" after he has just spilled a bottle of ketchup on the table) 

Remember that facial expressions and other social cues may not work. Most individuals with autism have difficulty reading facial expressions and interpreting "body language".

If the student does not seem to be learning a task, break it down into smaller steps or present the task in several ways (e.g., visually, verbally, physically). 

Avoid verbal overload. Be clear. Use shorter sentences if you perceive that the student does not fully understand you. Although he probably has no hearing problem and may be paying attention, he may have difficulty understanding your main point and identifying important information. 

Prepare the student for all environmental and/or changes in routine such as assembly, substitute teacher and rescheduling. Use a written or visual schedule to prepare him for change. 

Consistent treatment and expectations from everyone is vital.
Be aware that normal levels of auditory and visual input can be perceived by the student as too much or too little. For example, the hum of florescent lighting is extremely distracting for some people with autism. Consider environmental changes such as removing "visual clutter" from the room or seating changes if the student seems distracted or upset by his classroom environment. 

If your high-functioning student with autism uses repetitive verbal arguments and/or repetitive verbal questions you need to interrupt what can become a continuing, repetitive litany. Continually responding in a logical manner or arguing back seldom stops this behavior. The subject of the argument or question is not always the subject which has upset him. More often the individual is communicating a feeling of loss of control or uncertainty about someone or something in the environment. 

Try requesting that he write down the question or argumentative statement. Then write down your reply. This usually begins to calm him down and stops the repetitive activity. If that doesn't work, write down his repetitive question or argument and ask him to write down a logical reply (perhaps one he things you would make). This distracts from the escalating verbal aspect of the situation and may give him a more socially acceptable way of expressing frustration or anxiety. Another alternative is role-playing the repetitive argument or question with you taking his part and having him answer you as he thinks you might. 

Since these individuals experience various communication difficulties, do not rely on students with autism to relay important messages to their parents about school events, assignments, school rules, etc., unless you try it on an experimental basis with follow-up or unless you are already certain that the student has mastered this skill. Even sending home a note for his parents may not work. The student may not remember to deliver the note or may lose it before reaching home. Phone calls to parents work best until the skill can be developed. Frequent and accurate communication between the teacher and parent (or primary care-giver) is very important.
If your class involves pairing off or choosing partners, either draw numbers or use some other arbitrary means of pairing. Or ask an especially kind student if he or she would agree to choose the individual with autism as a partner before the pairing takes place. The student with autism is most often the individual left with no partner. This is unfortunate since these students could benefit most from having a partner.

Assume nothing when assessing skills. For example, the individual with autism may be a "math whiz" in Algebra, but not able to make simple change at a cash register. Or, he may have an incredible memory about books he has read, speeches he has heard or sports statistics, but still may not be able to remember to bring a pencil to class. Uneven skills development is a hallmark of autism.

For more information contact:
MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
P.O. Box 524
Crown Point, Indiana, 46308
e-mail to:
visit MAAP's web site at

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