Following on from the last SENCO Week covering Autistic Spectrum Disorder, this issue looks in a bit more detail at children and young people with Asperger’s Syndrome

Support for SENCOs

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are at the higher-ability end of the autistic spectrum and have some distinctive characteristics and learning needs ranging from mild to severe. In common with other ASD learners, they tend to have significant difficulties with communication and social skills, missing the non-verbal information given by body language and facial expression, and are often unable to enter into the turn-taking of conversation. Sometimes obsessive about a particular topic, they will talk at great length about this area of interest, at every opportunity, but avoid eye contact with those trying to engage with them.

Routines are extremely important to anyone with Asperger’s Syndrome, and adapting to change presents huge challenges to them. These characteristics often result in a child seeming very ‘odd’ or eccentric and this can make them a target for bullying. In some individuals, frustration and anxiety can result in angry outbursts, so teaching anger management techniques to these pupils can be an effective way of helping them to cope.

As a SENCO, you need to ensure that:

  • all adults who come into contact with a child who has Asperger’s Syndrome, understand the issues and how to respond, including lunchtime supervisors and office staff (see notes for teachers below)
  • there is a TA or peer ‘buddy’ (or buddies) to support the pupil outside lesson time as well as in the classroom. In some schools, the child with Asperger’s is allowed to stay inside during break times to avoid the hustle and bustle of the playground
  • there is help with navigating around the school (especially large secondary schools); arrange for an early exit (with a buddy) from lessons to allow for moving between rooms before the crush
  • the child has specific teaching about appropriate social interaction, facial expressions, figurative language
  • you speak to parents on a regular basis and keep them informed of their child’s achievements and behaviour
  • you speak with the child himself or herself to find out how well the support is working.

Information for colleagues

(See last week’s information about Autistic Spectrum Disorder as well.)

There is still uncertainty about the causes of Asperger’s Syndrome but research suggests that its characteristics are brought about by a series of neuro-biological triggers affecting brain development. There is no cure but children can be taught how to understand and manage their symptoms in ways that allow them to integrate socially (to varying degrees) and cope with the mainstream school environment. Individuals can be very able in some respects and often excel in learning facts and figures; thinking in abstract and imaginative ways can be difficult for them. However, teachers need to be aware of this trait.

Some general strategies

  • Have high expectations – these children can do well with appropriate consideration; some will have exceptional ability in one particular sphere.
  • Be flexible – especially in accepting and responding to ‘odd’ behaviour.
  • Stay calm; avoid shouting,
  • Be consistent – explain and use class and school rules regularly.
  • Have a clear structure to the day and lesson.
  • Use a visual timetable and homework diary.
  • Prepare well in advance for any changes to routine.
  • Allow the pupil to sit at the end of a table or row or on his own to preserve personal space.
  • Look out for sensory sensitivity (eg, to bright lights, noises, textures, tastes, touch and smells) – this may be aparticular issue in science and D&T.
  • Be precise with instructions: ‘Stop working now please, and look at me’ instead of ‘Shall we take a break now everyone?’
  • Explain metaphors and any figurative language you use – telling a child with Asperger’s to ‘pull your socks up’ may well result in a literal interpretation.
  • Build computer access into as many lessons as possible; they provide a break from the demands of social interaction and often enable a pupil to excel.
  • Reward effort and achievement as you would for any pupil, but with particular attention to the child with Asperger Syndrome whose ‘oddness’ may mean that he is less popular and personable than others; he needs to develop confidence and self esteem.

The important thing for parents is to know that their child is safe and happy while at school. Keep lines of communication open and informal: listen to them and learn about their child’s ‘quirkiness’ and how the family copes with this at home and in the outside world. They need to know that staff understand Asperger’s Syndrome and don’t seek to punish their child for behaviour which the child himself feels is logical. Explain the support you have put in place, how flexibility has been used to accommodate the child’s needs but also that some systems and rules have to be adhered to, and why. Support parents in helping their children to be as independent as possible.

The National Autistic Society provides information and advice for parents and families. 393 City Road, London EC1V 1NG; tel: 0845 070 4004; Helpline 0845 070 4004; e-mail: [email protected]; website

See also:

Children and young people with Asperger’s Syndrome see the world in very different ways to the majority of us. This realisation can be very worrying, even frightening, so the chance to talk with understanding and supportive adults is very important. Knowing that others share this condition can in itself be reassuring, so make use of the growing number of books and journal articles written about and by people with Asperger’s. Read and discuss them together to provide discussion points and joint problem solving ideas. A search on the bookseller website will bring up dozens of relevant titles, including two of my favourites: Martian in the Playground by Clare Sainsbury and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Recommend these to parents and teacher colleagues as well – they provide a fascinating insight into what it’s like to have Asperger’s Syndrome.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.