Students With Asperger's Syndrome

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!

Helpful Links:

  • Working With Students Who May Have Autism or Asperger's

Contact Information

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Office of Learning Support Services:
Villanova University
Learning Commons in Falvey
Suite 212
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Phone: 610.519.5176
Fax: 610.519.8015

Hours of Operation:
Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

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