Sara Cottingham  TA Project

   “I was hoping I was going to have a normal class this year,” said to a mother of a child with severely high functioning Asperger’s. This is just one example of the impact a teacher or their words can have on a student and their families. This particular student is also diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  He is currently in the fourth grade and his diagnosis started in Kindergarten. I spoke with this mother in order to gain perspective into what a parent would like teachers to know about children with Asperger’s.

            Communication is key when dealing with any type of child to gain success in their education. It becomes even more so when you are also dealing with their mental and emotional state. Do not blame the parent for the actions of their child. No parent sends their child to school for them to be disruptive, disrespectful, or even a danger to those around them. Placing the blame of behavior on a person does not resolve any issue at hand.

            Children with Asperger’s or ODD will often times give signs when they are about to have a meltdown. Figure out a method with the child, the parents, and the school that allows for the situation to be diffused before it explodes. Children with ODD often feel like they are being backed into a corner or not understood. It can become very dangerous for all involved. When a situation does become physical, it is imperative to have a plan in place before regrettable actions are taken. Again, this is an idea that needs to be discussed with all of those involved in the child’s welfare. You might need to call the police in extreme cases, but that should be laid out as a final option before it is done without the parent knowing that it is an option. Recently this student was suspended for punching a girl classmate in the face. The teacher did not notice any signs leading up to the event, but did mention that they had just gotten back from recess where he once again, was excluded from a game.       

            Many children with Asperger’s have a harder time with their motor skills and/or sensory perception. Be aware of new tools being introduced to the class and how this can impact this student. A protractor or compass for math might not seem complicated to the other students, but it can become very frustrating for others. In this boy’s case, it caused him to throw it across the room and sparked an ODD meltdown. Areas within the school may also cause a form of anxiety with the sensory issues. The gym is a large room with different lighting, sound acoustics, lots of activity and little order. This is enough to spark the beginnings of a meltdown just so the student can get out of the situation they are in.

            This particular boy also has a repetitive OCD. He has a compulsive need to pick at tape or Velcro, flip light switches, count items forwards and backwards, place items into patterns, and rock in place. These actions seem to calm him down when he is getting frustrated. His newest school (which is a magnet school for gifted students) has recognized this and placed a desk in the hall full of tape and Velcro for times when they are able to spot the warning signs before a meltdown.

            Using a reward system will not work for all children. This particular student breaks rewards down in his head to see if it is really an attainable object for him. If he has to get a certain number of stars on a chart by the end of the day to get the reward and he still has zero stars before lunch, he will figure it is a wash and stop trying. Many students with the combination of these disorders have a very hard time with socialization. They understand what friends are and they desperately want to have friends. Forcing interaction is not always a good policy if the children know that it is being forced. The child with the disorder can sense it and the other classmates resent it. This is a recipe for disaster. There are many books such as What it is to be me!: An Asperger Kid Book by Angela Wine or Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robison. Another good resource for the adults and older students is Can I Tell You about Asperger Syndrome?: A Guide for Friends and Family by Jude Welton.

            Children with any form of disorder are aware of the differences they have compared to their “normal” classmates. They take medications, see doctors frequently, have a different approach to school, and are treated differently by adults, have feelings that classmates might not have, have a hard time making friends. They also have a unique way of looking at the world, they are very bright, and they have dreams, goals, love, and the need to be loved.

            If you find that you have a student in a future class who has a disorder of any kind; educate yourself, talk to the parents/guardians, check your bias at the door, figure out a way to educate your class on the disorder with the parent approval, be aware of any changes in the students life outside of school, make parents and students aware of any changes you are going to be making in the class or routine, know the medications they are on as well as any side effects, communicate your concerns, look for ways to improve the child’s education, don’t look to place blame, don’t force what you think should be, treat each day as a new day, and most importantly NEVER GIVE UP ON THAT CHILD.

            Many times we are taught about how we need to plan our lessons for multiple learning styles. We also need to learn how to plan our classroom for the multiple living styles that will come into our lives. No child is the same. A disorder does not classify a student and it does not determine where they will go in life.


Life with Asperger's This is a different mother and her son that will help to understand just what a child with Asperger’s is faced with.


Meltdowns A few tips to help with Meltdowns and what to expect in some cases.



  ED 3140-90 Guest BSU Apr 16, 2009 11:36 PM 

Hi, my name is Nikki and I am a special education teacher and work with children with autism at the elementary level.  I have been working in this field for the past 7 years and each day brings a new challenge, problem, and a smile to my face.  Most people think of the movie "Rainman" when they think about autism.  Autism is characterized as difficulty with social interactions, communication, repetitive stereotyped behaviors, and affects 1 in 150 people.  More boys are affected than girls.  Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning it ranges from mild  (High Functioning Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Aspergers Syndrome) to more severe autism that significantly impairs communication.  Children with Aspergers Syndrome typically look like their peers, but are socially indifferent and may have slight communication impairment.  I highly recommend the movie Mozart and the Whale (2005) which demonstrates and gives alot of insight into what it might feel like and look like having Autism.  I personally think every person going into education should watch this video as it will bring new light on how people perceive individuals on the Autism Spectrum. 

 The most important things a K-12 teacher needs to know about children with Autism. 

#1They are gifted in their own individual ways and may appear to have significant deficits, but they have incredible strengths that will amaze people.  For example, the ability to draw cartoon characters, solve difficult math problems without a calculator, recite movie scripts, or have a mind full of knowledge on sport stars.  Build on their strengths.

#2-The best thing you could possibly do as an educator is educate other students about autism and help them understand what it is and show them the incredible strengths of the child with autism in your class!   


Routines are crucial.  Utilize a visual schedule to let the student know what is coming up next.  The student may be doing really well with the schedule, but DON'T take it away.  This is no different than a staff member taking your planner away and telling you to function throughout the week.  (It wouldn't happen) Predicability-this helps reduce the anxiety. These individuals like to know when an activity is going to start or stop.  Notify the student of change a head of time. Slight changes in the day can cause a student with autism frustration and anxiety. 


Keep it predictable, clutter free as clutter can cause the student be become even more distracted.  The noise of the fan, lawn mower outside, or loud music may cause a student to become anxious or frustrated, offer quiet areas to work.  Changing seating arrangements may cause anxiety/frustration if not prompted a head of time.  Fire alarms,  bathroom toilet sensors, may elevate the anxiety level of a student and may be reasons for behaviors.  The child may never go to the bathroom at school due to the automatic flush toilets and may hold it all day.   Children with autism do better in structured predicable environments and there may be more difficulty in unstructured settings such as the  lunchroom, recess, gym,  etc...


A student may need assignments reduced, for example instead of 8 math problems the student may do 4-5 problems.  Focus on quality versus quantity.  Model assignments first for the student.  Children with autism are visual learners and as schoolwork becomes more abstract they may have difficulty with this versus concrete assignments.  A student often takes information literally and needs to be taught directly the meaning of sayings.  For example "It's raining cats and dogs." A child may need help interpreting jokes and may not understand why the joke is funny.  When giving directions, keep your verbal language simple and clear.  For example, "Johnny get your reading folder and book."  versus, "Today, you will need your reading folder and book, now take them out and set them on your desk."


Teach the child how to organize.  Label folders, notebooks, or areas in the desk to help know where to put items.  These skills may need to be directly taught, as they intuitively don't know how to do it.

Social Skills: 

Social skills typically need to be directly taught to the child.  Guide the child and show the child what you want them to do versus telling them what they didn't do. Often, these children need to be taught taking turns, steps for starting a conversation, compromising, thinking about other people and how their behavior affects those around them.  A student with autism may not understand the hidden social rules that we all take for granted and know.  For example, blurting out to the class that the substitute teacher is an idiot.  This comment was on the student's mind and he/she was going to share it, not thinking about how this would affect those around him. Social skills is crucial if not more crucial than academic skills for children with autism as they need to learn the give and take of social relationships and that they are not just one sided.   


Often, when children with autism experience a melt down (crying, screaming, frustration) they are trying to communicate something.  It may not be obvious and often teachers need to be detectives about why this is occurring.  The child may be behaving this way because he or she doesn't feel well, the air conditioner in the classroom is making a funny humming noise and it is bothering him/her.  A child's sensory input is often over sensitive or undersensitive.  For example, the tag on the back of his/her shirt may be rubbing on the back of the neck which feels like pins and needles.  Anxiety about an upcoming event  may contribute to a child having behaviors.  

 I hope this is helpful.  Another great website to check out is