photo Credit WellspringCS on Flickr Creative Commons
I am grateful to Susan Stokes, an autism consultant, who wrote this article under a contract with CESA 7 and funded by a discretionary grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
These are some introductory autism facts to keep in mind when teaching individuals with autism and Aspergers.
Asperger’s Syndrome was named for a Viennese psychiatrist, Hans Asperger. In 1944 Asperger published a paper in German describing a consistent pattern of abilities and behaviors that occurred primarily in boys. In the early 1980s Asperger’s paper was translated into English, which resulted in international recognition for his work in this area.
In the 1990s, specific diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome were included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV, 1994) as well as the International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition (ICD10). In general, DSM-IV and ICD10 base their diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome on the following:
* Impairment of social interaction
* Impairment of social communication
* Impairment of social imagination, flexible thinking and imaginative play
* Absence of a significant delay in cognitive development
* Absence of general delay in language development (in Wisconsin, the child may still have an impairment under the state eligibility criteria for speech & language).
Recent research establishes the prevalence of Asperger’s Syndrome as approximately 1 in 300, affecting boys to girls with a ratio of 10:1. Children with clinical (medical) diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and who have been identified by schools as “children with disability” are typically found by the IEP Team conducting the evaluation to have an impairment in such areas as Autism, Speech/Language, or Other Health Impaired. Depending on the unique characteristics of the child, other impairment area listed under state law for special education may also be considered and used.
The general features and characteristics exhibited by children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are similar to the general features and characteristics exhibited by children who have been clinically diagnosed with Autism and are described as having “high functioning autism”. For educational purposes, the remainder of this paper focuses on the child with Asperger’s Syndrome who has been identified by the IEP Team as being a child with a disability. Much of the following information is also relevant for consideration in working with children identified as having autism and who are described as having “high functioning autism”.
Each person who comes in contact with a child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (either school staff or peers) should receive training on the unique characteristics and educational needs of such children. Due to confidentiality issues this should always be discussed first with the parents of the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their written consent should be obtained prior to providing peer training.
Educational Staff Training should include the following two components:
* General training of the entire school staff: Prior to working with children with Asperger’s Syndrome, it is critical to understand the unique features and characteristics associated with this developmental disability. Staff should be informed that children with Asperger’s Syndrome have a developmental disability, which causes them to respond and behave in a way which is different from other students. Most importantly, the responses/behaviors exhibited by these children should not be misinterpreted as purposeful and manipulative behaviors.
The peers/classmates of the child with Asperger’s Syndrome should be told about the unique learning and behavioral mannerisms associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It is important to note that parent permission must always be given prior to such peers’ training. A successful protocol for training peers at the kindergarten to approximately second grade level was developed by Division TEACCH and is available at their web site http://www.unc.edu/depts/teacch/. Another peer training protocol designed for children between the ages of 8-18 is Carol Gray’s “Sixth Sense”.
In the next article, we’ll look at unique characteristics and learning styles of children and individuals on the autism spectrum.