Teachers and Professionals

One in seventy people have some form of Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) so chances are you will come across people with ASC in your working life. People with ASC look the same as everyone else so it can be difficult to recognise and it is much harder to understand the disability. Autism and Asperger syndrome are much more common than Cerebral Palsy or Downs syndrome and yet the needs of people with this profound social disability remain largely unmet.

Supporting Asperger Families in Essex (SAFE) works to raise awareness of the needs of people and families with Asperger syndrome. Between us we have amassed a great deal of knowledge and experience of living and coping with Asperger syndrome and we are very keen that as many people as possible gain a greater understanding of it. We welcome professional members to SAFE and we are willing to come along to your place of work to talk about how you can improve your services for people with Asperger syndrome and their families.

Information for Teachers

The National Autistic Society had great success and government recognition with its “Make Schools Make Sense” campaign. They have put together a comprehensive guide to supporting pupils and students with autism which can be downloaded from their website.  This guide contains lots of information and tools to help teachers in the classroom environment.  Website link: http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/education.aspx

What can be done by Teachers and Learning Support Assistants?

  • First, take time to learn about Asperger syndrome and to understand why children with Asperger syndrome behave as they do. Learn to pick up the child’s stress signs early and act on them. A stressed child with Asperger syndrome learns nothing in the classroom so he might as well be elsewhere.
  • Arrange the classroom to minimise distractions, or give the student a special place facing the wall or at the front of the class in full view of the teacher.
  • Provide a ‘safe’ place within the school where the child can go to at playtime, away from the confusing and alarming playground where bullying can be most prevalent.
  • Help the child to feel safe by providing them with a clear written or visual timetable and a daily routine. Be sure to warn them in advance of any change in routine.
  • Take care to ensure that they have heard and understood instructions, perhaps explaining in alternative ways and in a kind and reasoned manner until you are sure they will be able to produce a result.
  • You must make sure you mean what you say and that you explain the nuances, metaphors, slang expressions, proverbial sayings etc. In other words – make the implicit explicit.
  • Make sure they have written all their homework instructions down; consider allowing them to do their homework at school because for some students with Asperger syndrome school is for work and home is for leisure.
  • If you have important information to convey to the parent, make sure it is written down and given to the child.
  • Their reading age is frequently ahead of their years but be careful to check that they understand what they are reading.
  • The lack of social skills makes a child with Asperger syndrome very vulnerable; it may also make them paranoid, imagining people’s intentions are hostile. Check this for a possible cause of aggressive outbursts.
  • Many schools have developed ways to show the meaning of facial expressions and body language, and how they relate to the appropriate emotional states, through Circle Time and SULP (Social Use of Language Programme).
  • Children with Asperger syndrome get very upset if they are bullied or teased. This is by far the most common reason for aggressive outbursts. They do not understand that the rest of the world sees such teasing as ‘normal’. They see it as a ‘betrayal’ of trust. You must ensure their classmates and schoolmates are aware of their sensitivities and be ready to defuse situations early, before the child has a chance to explode.
  • Help the child to understand when he is approaching his danger point; use the yellow card/red card warning system; allow them to leave the classroom for a safe haven when he feels under stress, preferably accompanied by a Learning Support Assistant.
  • See comfort routines as comfort behaviours to deal with stressful situations, and deal with them accordingly.
  • Most children with Asperger syndrome have a special interest; allow it to be aired in class as a reward or to enhance self-esteem with his peers. These children have much to give so allow them time to display their special knowledge.
  • Dealing with their blunt speaking requires a sense of humour and a real understanding of the unique quality of a child with Asperger syndrome.

Health Professionals

The first thing to be aware of when dealing with patients with Asperger syndrome is that they tend to have very high pain thresholds and often behave in unusual ways when they are in pain. People with Asperger syndrome have difficulty recognising and understanding their own feelings (let alone anyone else’s) and they may not recognise that the sensation they are experiencing is pain. This does not mean they are not in pain – just that they have trouble recognising it. It is quite possible for a person with Asperger syndrome who has a broken bone not to complain of pain so you need to make sure that every individual with Asperger syndrome is checked thoroughly.

People with Asperger syndrome find crowds very stressful. They may not give you eye contact and they may not look as if they are listening to you. People with Asperger syndrome usually have normal or above normal intelligence but they often have trouble processing verbal information especially when stressed so it is wise to reinforce what you are saying by writing information down and/or using pictures.

The National Autistic Society website has an excellent resource of information for health professionals dealing with patients with Asperger syndrome which you can download for free.

Information for Criminal Justice Professionals

People with Asperger syndrome tend to live ‘by the rules’, this means that they are usually less likely to come into contact with the Criminal Justice System as a perpetrator. However their very great difficulty in understanding and participating in social situations means that they are more likely to become the victim of crime.

Many of our members have had prolonged difficulties following quite innocent interactions with the police and so it is vital that all members of the criminal justice system are aware of the needs and difficulties associated with Asperger syndrome.

The National Autistic Society has an excellent series of resources to help Criminal Justice Professionals who come into contact with people with Asperger syndrome. Many people (but not all) with Asperger syndrome carry an Autism Alert Card on their person which should alert you to their needs.