Syndrome: Classroom Success Next Year
by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, May 2004
For more articles like this
Do you want next
year to be different?
If you want the coming school year to be better for your child
with Asperger Syndrome, whip out a sheet of paper. Now, let's do
a review of what worked this year and what you'd like to see
carried over into next year. What did Jimmy like about school?
What did Mary do best in? What did the teachers do that worked?
What did you and your child do that worked? What do you want to
make sure you capture and repeat next year?
Okay, now for the dark side. What didn't work? What do you
really want or need to change? The first step is to write out
what the problems were, then brainstorm about what you can
realistically do to make next year different - and better.
Keep in mind actions that you and your child can take over the
summer, such as social skills training.
Probably the single most important external factor affecting how
your child does in school is his or her teacher.
The best teacher-student matches for kids with Asperger Syndrome
tend to be instructors who have a lot of structure in their
classroom, but who are also flexible. Structured but flexible?
This is not a contradiction.
Here's an example. Mr. Johnson's a math teacher who always has
the day's homework assignment written on the board. He gives
clear instructions and due dates when he assigns projects. He
has a quiz every Wednesday and a test every Friday.
While Mr. Johnson provides structure, he understands that Jack
(who has AS) has a problem wanting to talk at great length
whenever he answers a question. Mr. Johnson is willing to work
with Jack on signals just the two of them know that help Jack
realize it's time to stop talking and give someone else a turn.
In other words, Mr. Johnson provides the structure that Jack
needs to understand the assignments, but he's also flexible
enough to accommodate and help modify some of Jack's Asperger
Syndrome-related behaviors to help him learn and minimize class
So, how do you get your child into a "Mr. Johnson" class?
First, talk with your school counselor, principal or other
appropriate school official about student-teacher assignments.
Schools do this at different times: before this year ends -
during the summer - at the beginning of the next school year.
Whenever your school makes these assignments, it's best to get
your input in early.
Take your list of what will help your child learn - and what
will hinder learning - when you talk with your school contact.
Your approach is that you want to provide the school input for
their teacher selection. Things tend to work best if you don't
ask for a specific teacher or teachers. Show the school that
your child will learn best - and have fewer problems that could
result in class disruption - if he is matched with teachers with
certain attributes. Then list the attributes and the advantages.
You're a salesperson, showing the school contact why it's in the
school's best interest, as well as yours, to make a good
teacher-student match. If the school has already made a match
that doesn't look workable, this approach could help convince
them to change things around before the school year starts. It's
in everyone's interest to have the year go smoothly.
Once a teacher is selected, move heaven and earth, Mars and
Pluto to get a meeting with the teacher (or key teachers if your
child has more that one) before the school year starts. At that
meeting, offer information to help them understand your child
and make things go smoothly. You're not telling them how to do
their jobs, you're providing information they can use to make
Always counsel from consequences -- and experience.
"Andy really responded well when his teacher called on him first
or second." "Sally tended to get very upset when her teacher had
the students pick their own cooperative learning partners."
"Kumar has tended to learn best when his teachers have used
visual aids and the lessons weren't purely verbal."
Be careful not to overwhelm teachers with information and don't
forget that your child is only one of a classroom full of kids
that a teacher will need to manage. Teachers tend to be
stretched very thin these days. Some students with AS have the
help of in-class special educations teachers and aides, but many
are in classes with one teacher at the front of the room. Ask
the teacher to call you if problems arise and not to wait for
regularly scheduled parent-teacher meetings.
You may need to educate a teacher about Asperger Syndrome, but
don't offer a stack of books. Start with a single article or
video that a teacher can read or view in less than an hour. (My
wife and I made a 44-minute video for this purpose after having
to explain our son's AS to new teachers each year.)
Most teachers tend to appreciate your sharing information with
them if you take the right approach. It's a mixed blessing that
there's a dramatic increase in cases of Asperger Syndrome being
diagnosed. No one wants more kids to have AS, but the increase
means teachers are gaining experience in teaching them. And you
may just find a Godsend of a teacher who wants more reading - or
is interested in attending seminars or conferences on AS as part
of their continuing education training.
It also helps if your child can have a school "safe harbor."
This could be a counselor or other person at the school that
your child can seek out if he or she becomes overwhelmed and
needs an understanding soul to help put things back on track.
Setting up this safe harbor before the school year starts - and
helping your child understand when and how to go to this person
-- can be a lifesaver.
From the time our son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, we
worked closely with his schools and sought out compatible
teachers. There are a lot of great teachers out there and we
were lucky to be able to help maneuver our son into some of
their classrooms. An investment in skillful, tactful lobbying
for the right teachers can make a tremendous difference in your
child's school year.
A final thought. Especially in the younger grades, the teacher
is often the person who can most influence whether a child with
Asperger Syndrome is accepted by the rest of the class. Our son
Drew (who has AS) had some very rough times in his K-12 journey.
Kids with AS often are among the last ones picked for teams -
and this hurts. But in one class, when the kids were picking
academic teams, they would clamor that they wanted Drew on their
side, because he always knew the answers. You can imagine what
this did for his self-esteem.
Find a teacher who can help other children see and respect your
child's strengths, and you've given your child and that teacher
something they can hold onto not just for a year, but for the
rest of their lives.
*Dan Coulter and his wife, Julie, are the producers of the
video, "ASPERGER SYNDROME: Success in the Mainstream Classroom."
You can find more articles about AS on their website at:
Copyright 2004, Dan Coulter. All Rights Reserved.
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