In a recent interview with Dr. Magnusen I asked her what she felt were the three major challenges for children with Aspergers in school. And also what can be done to help the child overcome them. Here’s what she said:
1. Understanding social skills – Children with Aspergers have a significant disadvantage in the school and other social environments; because they aren’t naturally able to read idioms, clichés, social cues and body language. This means that they can’t really “read” the other person that they are interacting with (be that a teacher or fellow class mate). As you can imagine that makes it hugely problematic for children to be able to build and sustain good relationships.
Dr. Magnusen likens the task of building social skills to that of tying a shoe lace. That’s because at a certain age tying a lace can be a very problematic experience, and it is built up of lots of small steps to be actually able to fulfil the task. And so building social skills is a complex task, with many stages to learn. There are a whole host of approaches to help the child learn social skills including visual support, predicting future events, letting the child know ahead of time about activities, scripting, role play and video modelling.
2. Blending social communication skills – In addition to the point above; children with Aspergers have challenges when it comes to putting social skills together in the right order. For example in a conversation there is a turn taking back and forth, periods for listening, non verbal communication and much more too. It is a really challenge for a child with Aspergers to be able to co-ordinate all of this when communicating.
In order to help the child it is useful for parents and teachers to develop pattern and sequences for children to follow in communication, and allow a lot of visuality in communication. For example helping your child to understand the pattern of a basic conversation from starting with an introductory “hello how are you”, on to the natural back and forth of a conversation. He will need to know when to speak, when to ask questions, what body language to use to express interest in the other person etc.
3. Special Interests – This is an area of both strength and challenge for a child with Aspergers. The giftedeness that allows a child to know huge amounts of information for example on a topic such as animals or transport is to be seen as a huge positive skill. However the challenge comes when the child will not engage on other topics or on a particular school work agenda, because of this pre-occupying interest.
Dr. Magnusen feels that due to the very concrete, black and white nature of thinking for children with Aspergers – then this challenge needs to be tackled explicitly. So the teacher, or whomever, needs to be explicit about what the child needs to be concentrating on. For example “yes your knowledge of reptiles is very impressive Bob and we can talk some more about it in project time tomorrow. However for now you need to concentrate on discussing this science experience we are conducting”. This way the child can be helped to re-focus on the task in hand.
I hope that this article has been helpful (and don’t forget that you can hear more from Dr. Magnesen in my new upcoming interview series…)
P.S. Please add your comments and thoughts on this top 3 list here on the blog…