5.5 Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are developmental disorders that affect the brain's development; they are characterized by challenges with social interactions, poor communication skills, and the development of repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Asperger's Syndrome, now to be known as "High-Functioning Autism", is considered an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students with ASD may have high intellectual and verbal abilities and yet be socially awkward.

  • Some characteristics that students with ASD may exhibit to a greater or lesser degree:
  • Frequent errors in interpreting others' body language, intentions, or facial expressions
  • Difficulty understanding the motives and perceptions of others
  • Problems asking for help
  • Difficulty making friends, or working in small groups
  • Motor challenges, unusual body movements and/or repetitive behavior
  • Difficulty seeing the big picture from too much focus on details
  • Decided preference for routines
  • Problems organizing information and tasks
  • Challenges with abstract thinking (focus on irrelevant details, difficulty generalizing)
  • Distraction in bright or noisy environments; may experience sensory overload, particularly during tests

Tips for teaching students with ASD:

  • Point out the organizational items in textbooks, e.g., chapter summaries, sub-headings, graphic design, charts, maps, and indexes
  • Communicate assignments and course expectations in written and signed formats
  • Incorporate hands on experiences when they are appropriate
  • Give students a clear syllabus, listing tests and assignments, and note due dates specifically
  • Make sure expectations are direct and explicit; don't expect the student to generalize from instructions
  • Include time for questions and answers
  • Establish rules if the student invades your space or imposes on your time
  • Keep directions simple and declarative
  • When group projects are called for, consider putting the student with ASD in a smaller group