Introduction to Educating Elementary School Students with Asperger Profiles
The majority of elementary school children with Asperger profiles are placed in regular classes alongside neurotypical peers in the local public school—but with some additional supports. The exact list of accommodations, modifications, specialized instruction, and services needed is determined by psycho-educational and/or neuropsychological evaluations. The educational recommendations made by the psychologist, speech language pathologist (SLP), occupational therapist (OT), or other evaluators are considered by the entire team. Agreed upon priorities become the basis for goals and services the educational team writes into the student’s IEP or Individualized Educational Program.
In some cases, recommendations may indicate from the outset that it will be impossible to meet a particular student’s needs in a regular classroom setting. For other students, it may become clear over time that, despite everyone’s best efforts, the student is not adapting well to the regular classroom environment. At this point, the team can bring in an outside Asperger/Autism expert to observe the child in different school settings, evaluate what needs to be improved, and visit regularly as a guiding support for the team. If the student still continues to struggle, the educational team will need to consider and try other specialized placements offering more intensive levels of supports. Some placements may be within the local school or school system (e.g. a smaller integrated or separate class where there is Asperger/Autism knowledge and similar peers); others may be out of district, either in public educational collaboratives or private/independent schools. Some families have found homeschooling a viable option as well.
The Educational Team
Major decisions about a student’s program will be made by a team of educators and parents working together. Parents are integral members of the educational team.
For a student to survive and thrive in a regular classroom, the team must have:
A team leader: an educator who has authority within the school building.
An Asperger/Autism-knowledgeable staff person or consultant, to provide guidance around behavioral, social/emotional, communication, executive function, and learning issues.
Regularly scheduled and effective communication among parents, educators, and consultants.
Other team members may include the following, working directly with the student and/or advising the team:
- An Occupational Therapist (OT) and Physical Therapist (PT) to address the student’s sensory and motor issues.
- A Resource Room or Learning Center teacher, classroom instructional aide or paraprofessional to help the student with executive functioning, emotional regulation, and social coaching.
- A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) for instruction in social pragmatic language, social skills, and social communication.
- A guidance/adjustment counselor, school social worker, or school psychologist to provide emotional regulation and perspective taking instruction and coaching.
- Outside specialists such as, neuropsychologists, educational consultants, therapists, or social skills group leaders may consult with the team as needed.
Possible Interventions to Include in the IEP (Individualized Education Program)
Not all students will need everything on the list, but most students will need a broad, carefully chosen selection, depending upon their particular constellation of strengths and challenges, and the particular classroom environment, culture, teacher, and other students.
To Help with Social Skills
There are a variety of ways to teach and practice these challenging skills. In addition to directly teaching social skills, the team needs to address how to help students generalize these skills beyond the individual or small group instruction so that they may be used during the less structured times of day like lunch, recess and working in groups in the classroom. It’s also important to help other classmates understand students with Asperger profiles. This helps develop a classroom and school that is welcoming to all children, regardless of diagnosis or developmental delay. Some options to consider include:
- Social skills group with a trained leader and a curriculum
- Social stories
- Comic strip conversations
- Individual speech therapy (pragmatic social language, expressive language)
- Drama class
- Structured social opportunities during recess and lunch
- School-wide or system-wide training in prevention of bullying and teasing
- Disclosure: teaching classmates about neurodiversity
- On-going teaching of unwritten school rules
- Social communication coaching during classroom time
To Help with Academics
- Modification of length or focus of some in-school and/or homework assignments
- Help taking notes (aide/peer note-taker, assistive technology, teacher-provided notes)
- Previewing work
- Structured and regular communication between parents and teachers about assignments, expectations, skills, progress, and problems
- Projects and papers related to student’s area of intense interest
- Present subject matter using visual aids
- Teach organizational skills: priority, sequencing, breaking assignments down into segments, how to start and how to ask for help when stuck.
To Help with Sensory and Emotional Regulation
- Provide a sensory-friendly classroom with reliable routines
- Flexible, patient teachers trained in Asperger/Autism and in differentiated instruction
- Advance notice of transitions, or changes of schedule, things, places, or people
- Home base for beginning and end of school day check-ins
- Preventive and as-needed sensory breaks
- Assistance or alternative activity during less structured school time such as recess, lunch, PE, music, or art
- Modification, assistance, or preparation for projects done in groups
- Preferential seating away from distractions, close to teacher and natural lighting
- Regularly scheduled and as-needed meetings with guidance counselor, school social worker, or school psychologist
- Teach the child self-calming strategies in advance, and give plenty of practice
- Teach flexibility and resilience
To Help with Executive Functions (EF)
- EF includes managing time, tasks, and materials to plan, initiate, and complete projects.
- A classroom aide can help the student focus, prioritize, break assignments down into steps, understand teacher expectations, write down assignments, take notes, and remember essential papers.
- Provide two sets of textbooks, one for school and one to keep at home.
- Have a consistent system for communicating homework assignments to the student and parents, such as posting assignments on a web page, or teaching the student to record and check assignments using apps or an assignment book.
- Assign a homework buddy; make sure the student has contact information and practice contacting the buddy (possibly with scripts, role playing).
- Provide a map of the school.
- Post the student’s schedule in more than one place
- Learn more about Executive Function Challenges for Children with Apserger Profiles