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Aspergers syndrome (Asperger, 1994) is a form of autism which is characterized by difficulties in three main areas: Social communication, social interaction and social imagination (National Autisic Society, 2010). Despite being defined by these criteria, it is important to note that it affects individuals differently, for example some children with aspergers syndrome (AS) may also experience difficulties with sensory assimilation, motor functioning, language development (Moore, 2002) and display characteristics such as love of routines and special interests (National Autistic Society, 2010). Over half a million people are affected by aspergers syndrome in the UK, this is around 1 in 100 (National Autistic Society, 2010). The number of children receiving diagnosis for AS also appears to be steadily increasing (Kim, Szatmari, Bryson, Streiner, Wilson, 2000). It is therefore important to understand the disorder and recognize the needs of children with AS in order effectively assist these children with integration into mainstream society. Essentially this process begins at primary schools where children first encounter a social situation within a learning environment.
Education presents opportunities for the attainment of knowledge and skills which support individual independence and social responsibility. However, children with AS may have more difficulty than normal children in acquiring these skills. Children with AS may require to be taught certain behaviours that ordinary children learn without special teaching, for example a primary school child with AS may have learnt to count backwards but may not have yet learnt how to understand when another child is upset (Lord & McGee, 2001). For these students, as part of meeting the need for independence and social responsibility, education goals may often require addressing language, communication, social and adaptive goals that are not part of standard curriculum. It is important for children of AS to develop and improve their social communication, social interaction and social imagination skills in particular because the emphasis of the social context is active in learning (Lord & McGee, 2001).
As increasing numbers of "special needs" children are being incorporated into mainstream schools, teachers face the challenge of meeting their needs whilst maintaining a challenging and stimulating learning environment for other students. For these reasons several strategies have been developed in order to assist teachers in serving a diverse range of individual needs within an ordinary classroom setting. These different strategies have been outlined in the section below.
Educating children with AS
Anxiety is one of the greatest problems for students with AS (Ghaziuddin et al., 1998; Kobayashi and Murata, 1998). The level of anxiety can either be very severe or mild. Whether it is intense or not, it must be taken into consideration and reduced before any real learning can take place This will usually involve a number of different professionals working together as part of a team (Moore, 2002). Most students with AS will have difficulty dealing with changes in their environment or daily schedule (Moore, 2002). Sudden changes such as a substitute teacher or the fire alarm going off can cause children with this disorder a great of anxiety and distress to the extent that they have difficulty with focusing on schoolwork and retaining composure (Myles & Adreon, 2001). Even something as simple as the teacher noting attendance visually rather than calling out names or a change in the number of maths problems on a worksheet can increase the child's anxiety levels.
In order to tackle these problems, changes in the routine or environment should be discussed with the child before they occur. The student should be prepared by providing them with a copy of schedule changes and floorplans of new arrangements. The main cause for anxiety in AS students is unexpected change which can easily be prevented by ensuring that they are fully aware of the changes before they occur. It may also be worthwhile to take note of things that may act as triggers in setting off the anxiety e.g. loud unexpected sounds.
In some cases of AS, students may find it difficult to sit close to other people and this may lead them to experience feelings of anxiety. It is important to be alert and detect the signs for such anxiety as soon as possible. If a child is experiencing anxiety, they may begin to rock their chair or bite their hands and they may also become withdrawn. In such a case it would be appropriate to sit the child on their own or with other students but not too close. It is important to allow children in such cases to get used to the environment around them and ensure that they aren't continuously moved around.
Theory of Mind
Individuals with problems with theory of mind have difficulty understanding things from other people's perspectives. The concepts of systemizing and empathizing are linked with theory of mind. Lawson (2004) found that children with AS had difficulty in understanding other peoples emotions and empathizing with them but appeared to display strengths in systemizing (e.g. understanding how a machine works).
Unusual patterns of attention
Unusual responses to sensory stimuli
Myles, B. S., & Adreon, D. (2001). Asperger Syndrome and adolescence: Practical solutions for school success. Shawnee, Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company