Perhaps most relevant to a student in the classroom: when you are stressed you are less likely to embrace difficult tasks. On your most stressful day, you will probably put the complex tax form in the “to do” box and leave it for a better day.
For our students, neurological stress can be the major underlying factor contributing to difficulties in communication, socialization, and academic performance.
Because of this, it is our essential job as parents and educators to respect the neurological differences and decrease that stress in creative and varied ways.
From breathing techniques to visual strategies and beyond, we will strive to decrease neurological stress so that our students and children can present their best self each and every day.
A schedule is a core strategy that creates an anchor for students who struggle to make sense of their day and their environment.
This is true of any classroom for any type of student. It has been well documented that learners benefit from having a daily agenda. Except, the difference is that while all students benefit from a daily agenda or schedule, students with Asperger’s Syndrome and other special needs have a greater need for this simple, yet fundamental strategy.
For a younger student, this might be a simple posting of the daily activities on the board. For an older student that transitions from classroom to classroom, the daily schedule might be best in a notebook. However, each class period or subject should post the specific activities for that day.
For example, a high school teacher can help to decrease the many stressors of high school life by posting something as simple as:
As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.
Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.
Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.
It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.
It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.
It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:
In a previous blog we discussed how to increase motivation and focus through the use of a Bingo card. The use of choice and positive reinforcement make for a powerful teaming of strategies. This blog will continue to break things down into smaller, more doable pieces of information. For instance, on the checklist or bingo card, it is time to complete 5 math problems, but another layer of support to add to this is a list of the steps necessary to complete those problems. From early grades through secondary, activities can be enhanced with a list of how to complete that activity, a task analysis.
As with most strategies, the benefit extends beyond students with an autism spectrum disorder.
Nicole Romero, a 2nd grade teacher, has embraced the idea of visual supports to aid instructional success for ALL students. She has decorated her centers with specific steps for completing specific tasks from using a number line to adding two digit numbers. These visuals that are posted for the class may also be provided as individual cards or pages for students with an autism spectrum disorder or other special need.
So how does this look in high school?
Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way for tweens, teens and young adults on the autism spectrum to practice and improve social and job skills. They also learn responsibility and a respect for animals. As visitors come into animal shelters to look at animals available for adoption, it’s the perfect place for teens to improve face-to-face communication. The experience they gain volunteering at an animal shelter molds them into more effective volunteers and prepares them for the workforce.
Volunteering at an animal shelter is a fantastic opportunity, especially for teens with Aspergers. It has been widely discussed that children, teens, and adults with Aspergers form strong bonds with pets, and can greatly benefit from animal companionship.
Their time spent volunteering will produce better outcomes (adoptions) if they have good communication skills. Here are some top social skills from my book to ensure teens maximize the chance of an animal getting adopted, and master important social and job skills:
1. Smile and Say Hello:
When you see another person, whether a co-volunteer, staff member or visitor, smile and say “Hello”. Your smile will set the tone for positive future interactions and brighten the person’s day. It may even lead to an animal getting adopted or a financial donation. It all starts with a smile!
Actors use scripts to help them memorize dialogue as part of their performance. Once they have memorized the script, then they can recite the words from memory adding meaning through inflection, tone and pauses. One of the common strengths of students with an autism spectrum disorder is that of rote memorization.
Therefore, a script may be an excellent tool to build conversational skills. Scripts are written sentences or paragraphs that individuals can memorize and use as supports in social situations. From greetings to asking for help to engaging in a conversation, a script can be a simple and discrete visual support.
When possible, student interests may be incorporated to heighten motivation to use this strategy. If a student likes Harry Potter books, a script can incorporate pictures that represent events from that book that relate to the content of the script.
Scripts can also support students that tend to shift the conversation back to their own special interest.
One of the most difficult roles of Aspergers Syndrome is that of a student. It is challenging for them to make friends and to learn solely on the basis of what teachers provide. Unfortunately, Aspergers students often fall behind, get in trouble, or become bullying victims. For any of these reasons, getting through the typical school day proves to be a real hassle.
However, Aspergers students can do much in their power to make the most of school days, even with a multitude of challenges.
1.Those who demonstrate their natural capabilities for honesty, intelligence, and personal strength tend to receive support, praise, and encouragement from peers and school staff alike.
For example, the Aspergers student who struggles with essay writing ensures greater success when he gets aid from his English teacher, as opposed to when he remains silent. Moreover, the teacher becomes more likely to notice his specific strengths and weaknesses in the subject. Therefore, the teacher obtains more information to help him in the future.
Another example is the Aspergers student who lies on the verge of academic failure; she scores low in multiple classes.
In a previous blog we discussed how to create keychain rules. This week, let’s look at a few more intricacies of this quick and easy strategy. Keychain rules can be cut up separately and placed on a binder ring or keychain for quick and easy access. A back-up version can be placed in a notebook or binder.
Leave at least one of the keychain rules blank for the student to create their own. If they have written one of the rules themselves, then they are more likely to consider these to be important and relevant. One student wrote “Have a great day!” on keychain rule #4.
During times of stress, this rule proved to be very soothing and helpful.
This same student travels from class to class, so she keeps her keychain rules in the back of her schedule notebook. Each of her teachers also have their own set available, just in case they get “lost”.
Keychain rules can be written in a different format for students that are motivated by video games, and other type of competitive activities, such as sports.
Announcing a new resource on Aspergers101! Today we launch Aspergers 101 Frequently Asked Questions section. We polled the 101 top requested questions on Asperger Syndrome and put them in one place for those seeking information on High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome! These questions range from the origins of Asperger Syndrome, the early signs all the way through adulthood. Some questions merited a one word response while others provide you with a detailed bullet-point answer. We would like to thank our underwriting sponsor: The Starfish Social Club for supporting and providing you this on-going free resource! To access Aspergers101 FAQ page either click on the ad below or it will be permanently available at the top menu bar on our website under the “Asperger Syndrome” tab.
Click on above to go to 101 FAQ Page
Aspergers101 welcomes Stephanie Pepi, founder and director of Starfish Social Club as an underwriting sponsor to our newest resource: Aspergers101 FAQ page! Stephanie’s experience and passion led her to open a program solely dedicated toward helping children – adults challenged (if not crippled) with a lack of social skills. We look forward to her future contributions in the area of social development but thought you would like to get to know her, given advice to parents during a socially awkward outing and the rapidly growing non-profit to watch, Starfish Social Club.
Aspergers101: Tell us about Starfish Social Club.
Starfish Social Club provides small group, direct social skills instruction to students with social learning challenges, ages 4 through adult. Students learn new skills, practice in a safe environment, and engage with similar peers in leisure activities on a weekly basis. The only requirements for enrollment are the ability to converse with peers and a desire to learn and practice new skills. Community outings (without mom and dad!) are available most weekends as well. Our goals are to increase social awareness and provide opportunities for students to form relationships with others.
Aspergers101: What areas and ages do you serve?
We serve students age 4 and up, including adults. There are no disability requirements; anyone with a social learning challenge is welcome. The majority of our students are on the autism spectrum. Most of our students have ADHD. Other common diagnoses are learning disabilities, anxiety, and mood disorders. We are located in the north central area of San Antonio and groups meet at our location.
Aspergers101: Your resume is quite impressive, from special education administrator to the track coach for a special olympics team! What led/inspired you to launch Starfish Social Club?
Students with social learning challenges are incredibly misunderstood. Students with social challenges but no ‘behavior’ issues are very often overlooked for services. These students go through school confused and often become socially neglected. Students with ‘behavior’ issues are really students with social learning challenges that aren’t being addressed effectively. These students go through school frustrated and often socially rejected. ‘Social skills’ can be a very vague, abstract concept and sometimes educators and parents are put in the position of teaching ‘social skills’ without really even understanding the complexity of it all. Social skills are much more than making and keeping friends, they are also about getting and keeping a JOB! There are lots of opportunities for someone with a high school diploma, but how many for someone who doesn’t know how to disagree appropriately? Has poor hygiene? Doesn’t filter their thoughts? Doesn’t acknowledge the presence of others? There is a saying that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. I believe academic skills win school life, but social skills win real life. My goal is to empower kids with the social skills they need to be successful outside of and after school.
Aspergers101: You work with school systems, what do you see as the most challenging social struggles for students with special needs?
Most students with Asperger Syndrome realize around 2nd/3rd grade that they are struggling socially. A lot of kids who struggle start to feel different and alone. While there are lots of kids with social challenges in the world, they aren’t always able to find each other. Most friendships are formed based on similar interests/goals/personalities.
The fact that special interests can serve as calming mechanisms is largely true for neuro-typical persons as well. Think of your favorite interests outside of your job and your family. What do you enjoy doing when left to your own devices? Some common interests include the following:
- Collecting Items
Whatever your interest[s] might be, you probably find them enjoyable, fulfilling, and even relaxing. The interesting thing about interests is that one person’s most favorite activity/thing might be another person’s least favorite thing to do.
Shopping might be a relaxing and enjoyable activity for someone as they comb through racks and racks until they find that crazy deal of all deals! That very same experience might cause stress and even heart palpitations for another as they search for the nearest exit. As with most strategies, interests are highly individualized.
For persons with Aspergers, interests may take many forms and be especially intense.