Asperger’s syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism. Like all types of autism, Asperger’s syndrome is highly individualized for each person. No two children with it have precisely the same challenges or needs. Nonetheless, everyone dealing with Asperger’s faces three basic categories of difficulties: executive function, social skills and sensory processing. (See Reference 1)
Learning About Asperger’s
According to autism consultant Susan Stokes, everyone who is in regular contact with a child who has Asperger’s syndrome should be educated on the unique needs and challenges of the disorder. (See Reference 2) The level of training depends on the role that a particular person plays in that child’s life. Parents and teachers need more in-depth education than young siblings and playmates. Classes are available through autism centers and therapy facilities. Support groups are available online as well as in person. Learn as much as you can about both the disorder as a whole and the individual needs of the specific child.
Executive Function Tasks
Executive function encompasses all tasks that enable us to set goals, plan, organize, strategize and adjust our behaviors to meet those goals. (See Reference 1) Children with Asperger’s syndrome generally struggle with time management, transitioning between tasks, organizing their thoughts and environment, maintaining physical and emotional boundaries and appropriately focusing on specific points.
Use visual, auditory and tactile cues to help the child make sense of his world. Write down the main point of each classroom lesson. Teach the child to use individual bins or folders for each academic subject. Show her how to use additional organizational resources such as graphic organizers and daily planners. Give the child advance warning of upcoming transitions and changes to the daily routine. Acknowledge inappropriate behaviors but avoid making a big deal of them. Reward appropriate behaviors.
Social Skills Training (See References 1 and 2)
Social skills include all the skills needed to successfully interact with other people, including the ability to read and send both verbal and non-verbal signals (including eye contact and tone of voice). Like executive function skills, social skills are learned rather than innate for children with Asperger’s syndrome.
Use visual and auditory methods to teach appropriate conversational skills. Comic book conversations, snippets of dialogue and targeted social scripts help children learn to respond in socially acceptable ways. Role playing helps children put their new understandings into practice. Spending time with an accepting peer or adult role model provides instant feedback on what works and what does not. Consider giving the child a short list of written rules that he can refer to when he is feeling overwhelmed or confused.
Sensory Processing Work (See References 1 and 2)
Sensory processing is the ability to define and react appropriately to varying stimuli in the environment as well as the child's own internal emotional state. Children with Asperger’s often have a tough time differentiating and understanding their own emotions, and may overreact or underreact to outside influences.
Use a 1-5 scale to help children identify the levels of their own reactions. When the child experiences an emotional reaction, ask her to rate her reaction on the scale, and then discuss whether the response was appropriate to the situation. Provide frequent, predictable rest breaks between tasks. Take steps to muffle noises if the child is sound-sensitive. Keep a box of small hand-held objects such as modeling clay or balls. Many Asperger’s children and adults self-soothe by fidgeting with objects.