Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.
Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.
There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.
Strategies that are directed by an adult include reinforcement of shaped social skills. This is a technique where the child is reinforced when they demonstrate closer and closer approximations of a desired behavior. Peer mediated strategies incorporate the use of proximity, prompts with reinforcement, and teaching peer initiation. The literature also supports using social scripts to capitalize on visual learning methods (Krantz and McClannahan 1993).
In my experience, I’ve observed how visual supports can be very beneficial in producing non-transient messages for the student to follow and use during social situations. When paired with direct instruction using ABA techniques like shaping and reinforcement, social skills training can be accomplished.
When you set out to develop visual supports, first perform an internet search to get some ideas.
Gabriela Lemos was born in Porto Alegre, Brasil, and was raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is currently a student at UTSA, graduating in December 2014 with a Bachelor degree in English. Brie states that she loves language and words, and the way in which people communicate with each other. She has always been interested and attracted to the autism community. “I find those on the spectrum to be incredible in so many ways, and I believe we can all learn from each other in our different strengths and weaknesses. I would love to use my talents to aid those who are not as strong in areas which I have confidence, and in turn receive an infinite amount of lessons and aid from those who I work with. Everything you send out, comes back to you, and I plan to practice sending out love and compassion every day”. We feel so fortunate to offer Brie’s talent of writing as well as her passion for autism awareness every week through our Aspergers101 Weekly.
As students with AS and NLD of all ages return to school, there’s two challenges: making the transition from summer to the school routine, and setting up the year to maximize success. Transitions and novelty often are the source of anxiety, so many AS and NLD students are increasingly anxious as that first day back to school approaches.
Anticipatory anxiety can be expressed as headaches, stomach aches, and specific fears of the year ahead: who’s in the classes, will there be bullying, what’s expected by teachers, having to take gym.
How can a parent help (or an older student prepare)?
Deal with anxiety:
- Recognize anxiety is a real feeling, but not an accurate prediction of what’s going to happen. Too often parents get caught up in the anxiety themselves.
- Meditation has been proven to turn off the “fight flight” response, and the breathing techniques are useful to use when there’s challenges or frustration. It’s a good time to start practicing daily. There’s apps for all ages.
- Exercise is another good way of dealing with anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a sport. Walking outside can be calming.
- AS and NLD students usually have ideas of what helps with anxiety but sometimes don’t initiate doing those things: reading, music, playing with pets.
- Use self talk – realistic self encouragement can be thought through ahead of time: “I can handle this,” “I know I can get help if I need it” are examples.
Dr. Marcia Eckerd has been in practice as a licensed psychologist since 1985. I am on the CT ASD Advisory Council and the Clinical Advisory Committee of the Aspergers/Autism Association of New England, as well the professional advisory board of Smart Kids with LD. Aspergers101 is honored to offered the knowledge and experience of Dr. Eckerd through her informative blogs!
Q: “Many people see children with Asperger’s and they don’t understand that their needs are lifelong. They don’t see that even if you watch your child succeed at a young age, there will be new territory to navigate as they get older and new situations arise.” This is so true, my son was diagnosed with Aspergers in the 90’s when there was not a lot of “buzz” about it. He did okay, but now as an adult he seems to be having difficulty especially with anxiety and confidence. I am worried for him, and keep directing him towards counseling, but he hasn’t yet. Any suggestions?
I can completely relate to this. Near the end of my high school days, I garnered several accomplishments and awards, but college was a completely different ballgame, especially since I was four hours away from home. Once I got out of college and moved back home, the working world was a completely different situation as well, and I struggled mightily at times. Each new job, new relationship, and new situation is a challenge, but an opportunity as well. Fortunately, my family could not have been more supportive of me over the years.
Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his late 30’s, and has worked with Autism Treatment Center of Texas since 2003. He is currently the administrative assistant to the clinical director. He also helps facilitate three different self-advocate groups, and in the Spring of 2015 was presented with the “Angel Award” by the National Autism Association of North Texas for the works he has done with these groups. He has also done public speaking on the subject of autism/Asperger syndrome, and has spoken to various educational and parental groups. When not involved with autism, Ken has led the singing at the same church since 1988, and has also been the fill-in preacher at this same church. In 2006 he was called on to sing the National Anthem at the Autism Society of America’s national convention in Dallas, and performed the same song at ATC’s rodeo fundraiser. He also enjoys writing, and formerly wrote articles for a website dedicated to reality television. In 2011 he got married for the first time, and his wife Rachel works for ATC in Adult Services. Ken graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1987 with a Bachelor’s in Mass Communications, and once worked as a radio traffic reporter, interactive announcer and writer, and news producer in Dallas. He views Asperger’s as a difference, not a defect, and has come to appreciate the positive aspect’s of Asperger’s.
Contributing writer with Aspergers, Ken Kellam, answered questions from some of our readers. Doug and Kelly both had concerns about their adult sons with Aspergers. Now, Dema Stout–Coach and creator of an adult Aspergers Meetup in San Antonio–adds her own insight and guidance.
Click here to read the full reader questions and responses from Ken Kellam.
Dema K. Stout, MA, PCC, CPCC established her private coaching and consulting practice (formerly Synergy Solutions) in 2004 to provide individuals (and their families) with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as AD/HD and Autism Spectrum Disorders the best possible support to achieve the quality of life they want and deserve. Dema spent the majority of her professional career as an employee of human service agencies providing supports to families and their children with disabilities. Upon relocating to San Antonio, TX from California, Dema decided to develop her own consulting business. She finished her initial Coach training with Coaches Training Institute, San Rafael, CA in 2002. She is also a graduate of CTI’s Leadership program and a Certified Nurtured Heart Approach™ Advanced Trainer. Dema has studied with Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, a leader in the field of AD/HD coaching. The services Dema provides maximize the skills she has obtained during her long career to support individuals and their families.