The most common autistic spectrum disorder – although it is still relatively rare – is Asperger’s syndrome. However, few adults working in schools are confident in looking after pupils who have Asperger’s syndrome. A few pointers are provided here.
Supporting pupils in the right way
The first step in being able to support a child with Asperger’s syndrome is knowing where they encounter problems. Generally Asperger’s syndrome pupils experience difficulties in three main areas:
- Social interaction – Pupils may find social relationships hard, for example, appearing distant, aloof and indifferent to their peers.
- Social communication – Pupils may have problems with both verbal and non-verbal communication, ie being unable to understand and interpret the meaning of common gestures, tone of voice or facial expressions.
- Imagination – Pupils may have difficulty in developing playful activities and creativity, ie having a very limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied, often repetitive, and usually pursued in a single-minded way.
Helping pupils in the classroom
Unlike other forms of autism, which cannot usually be supported in mainstream schools, many pupils who have Asperger’s syndrome can function quite happily in a normal classroom. However, they need imaginative and sustained support from teaching assistants, as well as external expertise.
Helping pupils in relationships with others
Pupils with Asperger’s syndrome in mainstream schools are very vulnerable to teasing and bullying. As they progress through secondary school, they may realise that they are different from their peers and so become even more isolated and depressed. They often want to be sociable and are upset by the fact that they find it hard to make friends. Teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors should be in a position to support them educationally and socially, because they will learn better if they are able to communicate and socialise in meaningful ways.
Other ways to help
A list of areas of difficulty which pupils with Asperger’s syndrome may have is provided below. Read each one and consider what kind of support you and your colleagues could provide:
- A pupil with Asperger’s syndrome may speak fluently, but they may not take much notice of the reaction of the people listening to them. They may carry on regardless and appear insensitive to others’ feelings.
- Despite having considerable language skills, pupils with Asperger’s syndrome may sound over-precise and literal. Jokes can be misunderstood, as can exaggerated turns of phrase and metaphors. In fact, they may be frightened of statements like “He was so angry he nearly bit my head off”.
- Pupils with Asperger’s syndrome often excel at facts and figures, but find that they have difficulty in thinking in abstract and theoretical ways. This means that they may have difficulty with certain aspects of literature and religious studies.
- Pupils with Asperger’s syndrome can often find change upsetting and try to impose their own set routines on each school day. Alterations to the timetable or what happens on a particular day can be difficult for them to cope with.
Find out more
More information about Asperger’s syndrome is available at the Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation.