Easy-To Implement Interventions for Children With Asperger Profiles

By Alex Michaels

“Hello, Mrs. Thompson, this is Ms. O’Conner, Jacob’s teacher. I’m calling today because there was another incident in class. Jacob is struggling with listening to directions. We were at morning meeting and, as always, he was jumping up and down and calling out. Another student asked him to sit and be quiet because he couldn’t hear. Jacob screamed at him and ran down the hall. Can you come in for a meeting on Friday so the Principal and I can talk with you about what our plan is from here?”

If you are a parent, you’ve probably gotten some phone calls like this, and you probably wish you could do something to make sure you’d never get another one. If you’re an educator, you would probably be happy if you never again had to make such a call. Well believe it or not, your wishes can come true!

What is behind the disruptive, impulsive, seemingly irrational and inexplicable behaviors of children with Asperger Syndrome (AS), and how can adults intervene to diminish such behaviors? Let’s first quickly explore why children with AS may exhibit difficult behaviors, and then we will devote the rest of this article to quick and easy-to-implement recommendations.

Children with Asperger’s tend to have specific traits which fall into three broad categories:

  1. Difficulty with Executive Functioning Skills: Executive functioning skills enable us to create a goal and a plan for reaching that goal, and then to initiate, sequence, sustain or inhibit behaviors to work towards and finally attain that goal. Executive skills also enable us to reflect upon our behavior, assess our progress, and make adjustments as necessary.
  2. Difficulty with Sensory Processing, Regulation, and Modulation Skills or “the ability to attain, maintain, and change arousal appropriately for a task or situation (Kranowitz, 1998). “Self-regulation” also refers to the ability to control one’s emotional, mental or physical responses to sensations.
  3. Difficulty with Social Skills and Social Rules: Social skills include all verbal and nonverbal skills that are required to have fluid interactions with others. This can encompass reading and giving nonverbal cues (such as body posture, eye contact, tone of voice, etc.). Social skills also involve taking another’s perspective, knowing what to say and what not to say, and when, and to whom.

Because many children with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty understanding the subtleties in life, the interventions below are designed make the subtleties obvious. Additionally, there are interventions to help children regulate their bodies and provide creative ideas for social interaction. The interventions are grouped to target specific areas of difficulty. There are many interventions listed here; not all will work for everyone. Choose and try out what you think will work for your individual child or student.

Some interventions listed below are just good teaching practices, whereas others were created specifically for our kids with AS and related conditions, by Milestones staff or by other professionals. An asterisk indicates that a professional from outside our agency created the specific strategy.

Executive Functioning Interventions

Post the Daily Schedule

By writing out the daily schedule (at home or school), we make the child’s day more predictable, and help the child be more prepared to meet each challenge. At school, make the schedule large enough so the child can see it clearly. Post it at the child’s eye level, somewhere so that it is in view at all times. When a subject is completed, erase it or check it off, so the child can easily see what is coming next.

Oops Board

*primary method of Bateson Therapy

Post a list of daily events that are unexpected changes (i.e., “Surprise math test today” or “No Gym today”). Usually, students do better when they know in advance to expect a change, rather than learning about it two minutes beforehand. Keep this list in a consistent place. (Some students may perseverate on these changes, in which case this is not a useful technique.)

Physical Boundaries

Because children with AS have difficulty inferring, they may miss cues about where to stand or where they can and can’t go, or place or move their bodies or body parts. Create a visual support by adding shapes by the door so the children know where to stand when they are lining up. If the child tends to bump into people while in line, have him/her be the leader or caboose so there are fewer kids to bump into. If the child is fidgety and pokes people when seated at his desk, move his/her desk a little further away from people, or put tape outline on the floor around the child’s desk, so the child has a physical marker and knows where the boundaries are. During meeting times, use carpet squares, shapes, or desk chairs so the children know where to sit, and do not invade each other’s personal space.

Bin System & Graphic Organizers

Instead of having children keep their work in their desks, provide the children with a set of clear plastic bins in which they can keep their work for each subject. This will limit the chaos of having all subjects in one binder and will also increase the likelihood that papers will stay sorted. Graphic organizers can help children focus and guide them in a good direction. Giving children a system to use also frees up their brains for other tasks!


Whatever rules you create, stick with them and be consistent with follow-through. Sudden changes which might seem logical to the teacher or parent may go right over the head of a child who has difficulty making inferences. While all the other kids have caught on, the child with AS is still following the old rules. By only picking a few rules, but always following through consistently, you will achieve success with these students.

Point of the Lesson

*primary method of Bateson Therapy

Although it may seem obvious to you, it is crucial to tell children the main point of the lesson and write it down on the board. Children with AS often retain only random facts from a lesson. By making clear the main point of the lesson, you are giving the child a framework to attach the facts to, and helping them create a whole picture. Additionally, if the student’s attention wanders, it is a great tool to pull the child back and help him/her refocus.

Be Specific

Always tell the child what you want him to do, not what you want him to abstain from. If you say, “Stop that!” (which is too vague) or “There’s no talking out in class!” (all negative), it doesn’t tell the child what he should do. By saying, “Write down your questions,” or “Hold your questions until 11:00 am and then you can ask me,” you are giving the child tools for what is appropriate, and curbing the child’s anxiety.

Reciprocal Teaching

*primary method of Bateson Therapy

To assure that a child really understands the concept you are teaching, first teach the group and then have individual children re-teach others. One fun method is also to provide an assignment for homework or in small groups, and have the children then teach others what they have learned. This also helps children with AS learn perspective-taking, since they need to take their audience’s reactions to the lessons into account to determine whether the audience needs more information, or if they have given too much information.

Decrease Clutter

Organize the environment so everything has its place and is labeled. Decrease any extraneous stimuli (i.e., nothing hanging from the ceiling, cover shelves with sheets, taking down old class work from the walls). Use privacy boards (screen that goes around the top of the child’s desk, minimizing distractions so s/he can concentrate on his/her work) as necessary. For many children with AS, all stimuli seem equally important; therefore the teacher is competing with objects dangling from the ceiling. Decrease visual clutter so that the teacher can be the most important thing to focus on (or at least the child will have fewer distractions). This can really help with sensory regulation as well.

Transition Warnings

At 5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 1 minute prior to ending activity, give children warnings. If you are teaching, set a timer to go off 5 minutes before the lesson is over, or assign this task to a student. This technique slowly prepares the child for the upcoming transition to a new activity or task.

Ignoring Points

*primary method of Bateson Therapy

Have children earn points (tally marks) when s/he ignores inappropriate or irrelevant information in the environment (such as peers who are acting inappropriate or something s/he is perseverating on). This is a helpful way to “train your brain” to ignore unimportant things.

Thought Boxes

*primary method of Bateson Therapy

Provide a box on the child’s desk so when s/he has thoughts that are inappropriate (wrong topic, wrong time, wrong person), s/he can put them in the box, close it, and put the thoughts away.


If children who have difficulty with visual organization, have them use graph paper to write out math problems. Use one box per number. This can help keep numbers in line.

Sensory Interventions

Classroom Warm Ups

Have kids up and moving every 20-30 minutes. They can do simple things such as ten wall pushups, ten jumping jacks, get up and run around your desk three times, etc. This physical activity break will help children switch gears and calm their fidgety bodies.

Reduce the number of problems on a page.

For children who become overwhelmed easily by work. Take the 20 math problems you have assigned, and instead of giving the child one page with 20 problems, give 5 pages with 4 problems each. This will help decrease anxiety.

Auditory Interventions

Close the classroom door to decrease noise, permit the child to use an iPod when working on individual quiet assignments, place tennis balls on the bottoms of chairs, have a one-person-talks-at-a-time rule, or place a rug on the floor to muffle sound.

Tactical Interventions

Have a fidget box filled with small manipulables such as modeling clay, play dough, pocket koosh balls, lotion, and other small things that kids can use to fidget with. Offer the option of working on the floor or standing, instead of only sitting at a desk. (This can help with low muscle tone as well.) Use weighted blankets to provide sensory input to students.

Scheduled Frequent Breaks

Provide the child with frequent, regularly scheduled, short breaks. Think of breaks like food; if you wait too long between breaks, or don’t give them until the child absolutely needs them, the child will be distressed, just as s/he would be if s/he had to wait too long between meals. If you provide regular, predictable, short, frequent breaks, the child can remain regulated.

Keep furniture placement the same.

For children with motor planning and sensory issues, for whom it is a struggle to remember where things are and how to avoid furniture, keeping furniture placement the same all year reduces anxiety. This includes where the children sit. If you need to move furniture, have the child help you move the furniture; this way there is some participation on the child’s part, which may help with visual memory.

1-5 Scale

*Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis

The 1-5 Scale, created by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis, provides a visual representation for the range a child can be experiencing. This range was originally created for sensory regulation. At Milestones, however, we often use it to represent ranges of behavior or social appropriateness as well as for sensory regulation. (See below.)

Below is an example of a 1-5 scale that I used with a child who had difficulty understanding how much of an emotional response he should have. This child often catastrophized, becoming very upset with others or himself over small things. This chart provides an idea of what a “1 problem” is vs. a “5 problem.”

Using the 1-5 Scale for Sensory, Volume,

Inappropriateness, or Thoughts

Someone died; my house was on fire; the world exploded.

A Big Deal
I physically hurt someone or myself; using threatening language or actions toward someone else or myself; yelling at someone; throwing objects.

Using swear words/inappropriate language instead of using my feeling words; name-calling instead of saying “I feel __;” hitting the desk, wall, or other object with my fist.

Unpleasant or Disappointing
I have a disagreement with my friends; someone doesn’t like my idea; being asked to participate in something I don’t want to do; someone doesn’t want to play the game I want; when I keep thinking over and over that I’ve done something wrong.

Not a big deal; just think about it
I accidentally bumped into someone, or someone accidentally bumped into me.