Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a spectrum disorder with a range in severity of symptoms, usually involving social interaction deficits, communication deficits, and/or delayed language. Asperger’s Syndrome has traditionally been referred to as “high-functioning autism” since there is usually average to above average intelligence and no history of language delays.
Characteristics of Students with Asperger’s Syndrome:
- Impairment in social interaction, difficulty forming relationships with peers
- Failure to seek out others for interactions, enjoyment or achievements
- Difficulty with social/emotional reciprocity (cannot read social cues, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice)
- Restricted, repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, & activities
- There is no clinically significant general delay in language
- There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction)
- Significant preoccupation with specialized area
Characteristics of Students with Asperger’s Syndrome that Impact Learning in Higher Education:
- Social impairments – group work, socialization, internships, interviews, extra-curricular activities, living in the dorms, interactions with professors, etc.
- Perseverative/idiosyncratic interests – can interfere with studying and have a negative impact on socialization
- Need for routine – difficulty coping with unforeseen changes
- Sensory sensitivities – difficult to be in classroom/dorms; irritability/frustration, sensitivity to air/lighting in large lecture halls
- Comorbidities – medical & psychological comorbidities can also complicate adjustment in college (OCD, Anxiety, Depression)
Suggestions for Faculty:
- Meet with Learning Support Services personnel if you know that a student with Asperger’s will be in your class.
- Establish boundaries before the semester begins or as soon as the semester begins. Limit the number of questions or comments to 3 per class period and provide guidelines about contacting you with additional questions.
- Notify Learning Support Services office if student begins missing class/seems highly agitated.
- Provide clear, detailed information in your syllabus.
- Provide written instructions for any changes – don’t rely on oral communication as the only means of communication with an Asperger’s student.
- Praise appropriate behavior, especially with respect to peers.
- Remember that you set the tone in the classroom. Other students will follow your lead on the best way to interact with the student with Asperger’s.
- Avoid loud, shocking noises in class in demonstrations or displays.
- If an Asperger’s student becomes upset, allow them to leave the room. Do not try to comfort them by hugging, patting, or otherwise touching them.
- If group work is part of the course requirement, be creative and work with Learning Support Services to develop an alternative, individual assignment that measures the same learning outcome.
- Provide copies of your PowerPoints before class so that the student can follow along.
- Discuss any presentation requirements with Learning Support Services. Often presentations can be modified by having the student present via video conference, individually, or by having the student hand in a paper as an alternative method of assessment.
- Always keep a sense of humor. Students with Asperger’s, if given the chance, are likely to become some of your favorite students!