Teaching and Learning Approaches for Children with Asperger's Syndrome

Article excerpt

Literacy Implications and Applications

Asperger's syndrome (AS) is a grouping of physical and behavioral characteristics that introduces educational challenges for students of all ages, especially at middle school levels when literacy activities involve inferential and critical levels of analysis. Often overlooked or misdiagnosed in primary level classrooms because the syndrome is still relatively unfamiliar to educators, the symptoms are not readily recognized by individual specialists, and the subtleties of behavior are often misleading. Several medical and special education researchers have re-introduced this social communicative disorder (e.g., Frith, 1991; Gillberg, 1995; Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000; TwachtmanCullen, 1996), describing the syndrome and its general characteristics in broad terms. Due to the increased awareness on the part of special education staff, students in private and public school systems have been identified in larger numbers. Because these students often remain in general education classrooms for various lengths of time, it is beneficial for educators to become familiar with the specific idiosyncrasies of individuals with AS, their practical language systems, and effective educational strategies.

To guide new learning, case studies extend people's understanding through naturalistic, psychological generalizations. Advantages of case studies include application of theory to practice, activation of problem-solving skills, and immersion in authentic and relevant experiences (Elksnin, 1998); therefore, we chose a case study focus to describe students' discourse patterns, their educators' contextualization (or facilitation) cues, and the collaborative intervention approaches characteristic of the two programs (i.e., one clinically based and one school-based), for two children with Asperger's syndrome.

This article reviews descriptors of Asperger's syndrome, presents case studies, and addresses two lines of inquiry:

1. How do the characteristics of Asperger's syndrome manifest themselves in middle school children's language and literacy behaviors?

2. What forms of special education intervention and classroom accommodations will support these students' inclusion and achievement in general education classes?

We present individual manifestations of the disorder, familiarize teachers with beneficial compensatory educational strategies to use in the classroom, and target the practical application of theory into practice. The strategies described are for everyday use with children with AS in the middle grades (5-8), with attention to areas that are not routinely targeted, such as sensory processing, pragmatic strategies, and parent-teacher communication.

Ctaweteristics of Asperger's Syndrome

The cluster of symptoms referred to as Asperger's syndrome were first identified by Hans Asperger in 1944 at about the same time that Leo Kanner described the combination of behaviors now commonly referred to as autism. Asperger's syndrome was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994. Along with official recognition and additional research, the characteristics of this subcategory of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) have been used to describe children with specific social communication difficulties. Researchers agree that there are variations among individuals displaying the characteristics of Asperger's syndrome in perceived intellectual abilities, sensory functioning, social skills, and gross motor development.

The DSM-IV (1994) described Asperger's syndrome as one of several pervasive developmental disorders. There is overlap among the disorders that compose the PDD classification, such as

* Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

* Nonverbal learning disability (NLD).

* Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

* Tourette syndrome.

* High-functioning autism (HFA). …