Teaching Students with Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder, usually characterized by difficulties in social interaction and restrictive interests or stereotyped behavior. Difficulties with communication and emotional expression are also common. Individuals with AS must learn in a structured manner, unlike the intuitive way in which many others learn certain things without even trying.

Asperger's syndrome is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and is sometimes described as a mild form of autism. Contrary to common perception, many people with AS possess a number of traits that make them ideally suited for academic environments - high intelligence, obsessive interests and ability to focus. As we learn more about how to successfully work with them, students with AS are showing up in increasing numbers at college campuses everywhere.

As is the case of students with invisible disabilities, students with Asperger's Syndrome are often hesitant to disclose their disability due to fear of the stigma and stereotypes that often come with disclosure. Instructors can help by being aware of their own attitudes, perhaps of discomfort with this unusual hidden disability and ignorance in knowing how to interact with these students.

For students with Asperger's Syndrome, what may appear as "inappropriate" behavior may be the result of their misperceptions in the social or college environment, or simply a reaction to sensory overload. The most effective treatment is to increase the individual's awareness and understanding of their behaviors and the effects on those around them. Explanations should be concrete and logical and put in the context of how appropriate behaviors will benefit them personally. Accessibility Services can help address specific behaviors and provide appropriate accommodations.

College students with Asperger's Syndrome report difficulties with organization and follow-through, asking questions, making their needs known, and compulsive behavior. Often individuals with AS demonstrate lack of eye contact, but this does not mean they are not paying attention or interacting in their own way. All students are different, but following is a list of types of support these individuals may need to be successful in your class:

  • Class structure that follows a set routine, with clear goals and expectations.
  • Alternative ways of completing tasks, rather than working in a group.
  • Information and assignments presented in more than one format - e.g., written and verbal.
  • Use of literal, rather than metaphorical or figurative language.
  • Detailed instruction for all assignments.
  • Testing accommodations may include additional time, or a private workspace with minimal distraction.
  • Depending on their needs, students may also need to tape record lectures, have notes from a classmate, or sit in a location where distractions are minimal.

We suggest that you also review the suggestions for learning disabilities and psychological disabilities; many of these accommodations and tips may also be helpful for students with AS.

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