Is Higher Education Ready to Support Students with Asperger’s Disorder? ~ Part 2

In 2013 I surveyed disability service professionals at 578 degree-granting, four-year public institutions of higher education. The survey was designed to determine the current readiness of higher education to support the academic, social and communication, and independent living needs of college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. 230 colleges participated in the survey. You can read part one of this blog series here.

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The survey was designed around the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder (Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, & Hansen, 2012), a checklist of efforts determined by experts as integral to effective college supports for this student population. The 2012 study demonstrated college students with Asperger’s Disorder required specialized supports, and that disability services available traditionally on campus to this population were generally ineffective. The 2013 nation-wide survey explored, in part, whether or not colleges had specialized supports for this student population outside of traditional disability services.

Beginning School: My Sensory Overloads

When I started school, I noticed that I did not like certain things around me. For example, the fire alarm for the monthly fire drills unnerved me to no end. The feeling that it could happen at anytime almost drove me insane.

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Some other problems I would have would be certain smells in the cafeteria would make me ill or the loud noises in the hallways would make me cover my ears because it was too loud. This is called a sensory overload, where certain everyday aspects of life can be uncomfortable for a child with Aspergers. Now, the main question is “What can I do for my child?”.

Well, my mother got involved with the school. She talked to the school staff about my Aspergers and how some sounds or smells can cause a sensory overload. By doing this, they were able to accommodate me i.e. taking me out before the fire alarm went off.

The first thing you can do is do what my mother did:

Talk to the school staff that knows your child and tell them about Aspergers and sensory. Don’t be afraid to tell them the details! Then, see if they can accommodate your child like they did with me.

by Samuel Allen

Getting an ASD Diagnosis in Elementary School: A Crucial Window of Time

Going through the Kinder through third grade for my Aspergers son was by far our (and his) most difficult time. A perfect storm comes together for the parent, the teacher and especially the undiagnosed child on the higher end of the autism spectrum when beginning the school age years.

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in library

Often thrust into a social situation where no one has a clue that autism even exists can easily mask itself as bad behavior. This crucial window of time has been my inspiration to create Aspergers101 so that you can have more information at your fingertips than we did! The signs could come earlier if your child is in day-care or daily with other children. Although our son (who was our first) did show early signs…it didn’t become ‘in our face’ until he started public school.

Strategy for Asperger Students: Mini-Maps

Guidance with Assignments

Now that we have established the core strategy of a class schedule or agenda as an essential starting point, let’s extend our focus to a companion strategy. A schedule within a schedule has many names. For our purposes, we will call this sub strategy “mini-maps”.

strategy, mini-maps

A mini-map takes a piece of the schedule and breaks it down even further. The schedule guides you from one major activity to another, while the mini-map clarifies the smaller steps within that activity. This can be especially helpful to decrease frustration associated with academic tasks, but can be useful for any chunk of time that presents a challenge.

Communicating Strengths and Needs in College

Whether or not a student should formally disclose an autism spectrum disorder to disability support staff at a college or university is a personal decision one should make after thoughtful consideration. It is my opinion, however, that students have the potential for a better college experience when they provide faculty with information that improves the ability of the instructor to communicate with the student and accommodate his or her academic and social needs.

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

We at Marshall University have found that providing professors with information and examples about preferred instruction styles can help facilitate a successful classroom experience. Your school might have disability services in place that offer facilitation between professors and students to help fit their accommodations. Oftentimes these services take the form of a letter written to the instructor that explains the student’s necessary accommodations for the class, which the professor must adhere to.

Look to see if your campus offers such services, and set up an appointment with a disability services representative to discuss your options. If your school does not offer services such as these, you can create this letter yourself. Here is one example of how this could look.

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

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For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

Accommodations do not alter what the student is expected to learn but rather make learning accessible to the student. They allow the student to demonstrate what they know without being impeded by their disability. Students are required to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. They do not alter in any way what the assignment or test measures.

5 Major Principles an Aspergers Student can Use to Stand out in School and After School

Using your skills to your advantage in school

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.

Tips for Student Self-Management in the Classroom

Self-management techniques have been found to be more effective in managing student behavior than teacher-mediated interventions (Stage & Quiroz, 1997; Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009). When self-management strategies are linked to functionally equivalent behavioral interventions, students increased the amount of time on-task, demonstrated more appropriate social behaviors, and completed more assignments.

Student Self-Management Interventions DESCRIPTION

  • Self-monitoring: Students both observe and record targeted behaviors.
  • Self-evaluation: A student compares his or her performance to established criteria.
  • Self-instruction: Student-directed behavior is guided through the use of self-statements.
  • Goal-setting: Students select a goal and create personal guidelines for commitment, and progress toward that goal.

When possible, incorporate the student’s interest as in the following example.

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Middle School, High School, and College Through the Eyes of a Young Autistic

Middle school. The darkest and most hideous, oppressive years a human can fathom. When the hormones are just ripe enough to make you want to take on the whole world, but maturity has not yet developed enough to realize there are things such as consequences. But me, I did not get into any real trouble, instead I became profoundly confused and unhappy. These are years that are difficult to handle under even the best of circumstances. On top of this, my family moved from the Northeast to the Southwest just as I was about to start middle school. To take a young child from one environment and to suddenly thrust them into new ones is very distressing and painful.

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For the Autistic it can be hell. Somehow I managed to survive it all, and to escape being beat up by the other kids. One thing I didn’t escape? Humiliation. I had a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the things I thought were funny at the time. I had always been led to believe that laughing at someone’s joke was the best genuine way to prove that you understood it, and that you admired their sense of wit. But somehow, laughing at everyone’s joke meant I was weird. Wanting to learn was weird. Humming music that I liked was weird. Reading books that I wasn’t required to because of a class was weird. My hair was weird.

Seriously. Other than my hair, someone explain to me what’s weird about any of that.