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Academic/School

Nobody’s perfect. We all have weaknesses, and any one of us can feel overwhelmed when asked to do things we’re not good at. For individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, weaknesses often intersect, causing considerable frustration in the areas of written expression, math, organization, and practical problem solving.

Writing
Math
Reading Comprehension
Executive Functioning

 


Writing

Writing requires skills that tend to be difficult for kids with ASD, including organizing information, gauging the reader’s prior knowledge, and getting the words down on the page.

Individuals with ASD characteristically have difficulty relating details to the bigger picture, impacting almost every area of functioning, including writing. An individual with Asperger’s may have difficulty choosing relevant details, either overlooking important things or becoming mired in the microscopic. Because of their stronger verbal abilities, some may actually write lengthy passages using good vocabulary and well-constructed sentences. Unfortunately, the result may be a somewhat rambling essay that is lacking in substance.

Writing also requires to the writer to put himself in someone else’s shoes. The writer must consider the audience’s background knowledge and interest in the subject, and be able to predict reactions to the material presented, wording, and tone. Coordination of these insights is what helps answer questions like “Am I proving my point?”, so constructing a supported written piece can often be difficult for Aspies.

The majority of individuals with AS possess a strong intellect, especially in thinking and reasoning using language (as opposed to nonverbal or visual thinking and reasoning). A person with AS may have a variety of sophisticated ideas on a given topic. As he attempts to translate these ideas to writing, he may experience what feels like an internal traffic jam. Though ideas are flowing, the writing process is slower, and thoughts can often fly by before they can be put on paper. Understandably, this mismatch between richness of thought and slow output often results in great frustration.

These simple strategies have proven helpful with many of my patients:

Make it visual. Map everything out visually—whether with a pencil and paper or more sophisticated software for visual learners.

Start simple. Start with a formulaic writing structure, like a five-paragraph essay, with an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Break the writing process into manageable chunks. First, encourage non-judgmental brainstorming and free expression to get ideas out. Next, the ideas can be sorted and sequenced. Once the ideas have been roughly organized, the information should be reviewed to identify any irrelevant information. Working the ideas into complete sentences and elaborating usually comes next, followed by proofreading.

Use technological supports:

NEO, AlphaSmart, (or other word processing program/device)
Using a word processor speeds up writing and ensures a legible product, whereas with handwriting, speed often compromises legibility and causes unnecessary frustration. NEO and AlphaSmart keyboards are available at: amazon.com

Word prediction software. Word prediction software guesses the next word the user might type. It can speed up the writing process and help bridge the gap between rate of thought and rate of writing. Co:Writer 6 is a word prediction software application designed to specifically for students with illegible handwriting, poor or inventive spelling, and or who have difficulty translating thoughts into writing. For more information: 

donjohnston.com

Dictation software. Dictation software translates speech into written text. This circumvents the issues of physical writing and typing speed and allows for greater freedom of expression, and can be a particular asset in getting ideas flowing. For Mac users, MacSpeech Dictate is an excellent choice. Available at: amazon.com

For PC users, Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software is available. (This product is more cumbersome and not as intuitive as the Mac product.) Available at: amazon.com

Graphic organizer software. Graphic organizer software is a useful tool for creating Venn diagrams, flow charts, and other visual brainstorming methods. The best of this software provides templates for organization, which can be a great springboard into writing. My favorite graphic organizer software programs are Kidspiration and Inspiration. Both are available for a free trial download at: inspiration.com

Free graphic organizer templates are available at:
eduplace.com
edhelper.com
educationoasis.com

shoretelsky.com
This site is particularly well-organized with helpful descriptions of usage.
(Suggested by Francesca Davis and her tutor group.)

 


Math

Kids with Asperger’s often have difficulty interpreting the pictures, diagrams, and graphs used to illustrate math concepts in the early grades. Manipulating objects and describing relationships and operations in words can be helpful.

Make math hands-on:

Use Touch Math strategies. TouchMath is a multi-sensory method for teaching basic number concepts and computation skills. The student is taught to associate digits 1 through 9 with the corresponding number of "touchpoints." This method can be used to solve addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems. Some teachers report that TouchMath strategies can help students to transition from concrete manipulatives to symbolic math. Parent and teacher training and curriculum materials are available at: touchmath.com

Use visual aids such as Cuisenaire Rods. Cuisenaire Rods are sets of colorful wooden or plastic bars that help teach mathematical concepts to visual and tactile learners. These manipulatives also help students to progress from concrete representation to abstract mathematical thinking. Cuisenaire Rods can be used to reinforce math topics such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, geometry, and measurement. An Introductory Set of Cuisenaire® Rods can be purchased for $11.95 to $13.93. etacuisenaire.com

Use virtual visual aids. Although lacking in the tactile element afforded by physical aids, virtual visual aids have the benefit of appealing to kids’ interest in technology, as well as adding auditory reinforcement. There are several government websites that feature games and other free visual learning aids including videos. Where possible, it’s helpful to relate math to your child’s interests. These government websites for kids provide a great place to start.
kids.gov 
nasa.gov

usmint.gov/kids

Use paper with columns for solving. This can reduce the impact of writing handwriting issues and alignment problems. Graph paper works great, or you can just turn a piece of loose leaf sideways.

 


Reading Comprehension

Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome generally have strong skills in spelling and decoding (using letter sounds to figure out words), but may have difficulty with reading comprehension. Since kids with Asperger’s have a hard time distinguishing between minor details and the main idea, understanding what’s read can be a challenge.

Textbook Reading:

Read aloud together. You can help your child identify the main idea by reading aloud together. At the end of each paragraph, ask, “How can we shrink this down to one nugget?”

Capitalize on the hierarchy of information in textbooks. Typing out the headings and subheadings of the textbook provides the big picture, showing the relationship between the author’s main topics and sub-topics. With this framework in mind, the student can more easily fit the details into a meaningful whole.

Use previewing strategies. Reading the end-of-chapter questions first can point the way to the most important information.

Use highlighting. Extra help will be necessary to hone this skill.

Fiction Reading:

Listen to books on tape in the car. Periodically stop and ask the child questions about the story. Repeat and recap before continuing to play the tape.

Organize information graphically. Make a flow chart; color code different kinds of information; use stars, checks, and other graphic symbols. Free graphic organizer templates are available at:
eduplace.com
ed.helper.com
educationoasis.com

Relate the story they’re reading to other stories or characters they already know. Discuss similarities and differences.

 


Executive Functioning

Time Management

This is a problem faced by many people—not just those with Asperger’s syndrome!

Make time visual. Use a stopwatch or an egg timer to time tasks. With a better understanding of how much time a task takes, better time management can be achieved.

I used an analog stopwatch to time various activities. My son, like many kids, really liked the stopwatch (although I have encountered children who find it anxiety-provoking). We discovered that emptying the dishwasher actually takes 3–5 minutes! When he discovered that this could be accomplished in two commercial breaks, he became a dishwasher-emptying machine!

Egg timers, available at most dollar stores, can also be very helpful. If your child gets lost in the sensory pleasure of a shower, it may be helpful to teach him to set the timer for a set number of minutes (perhaps depending on the capacity of your hot water heater).

Allow for scheduled breaks. To complete dreaded homework, we adopted a strategy that we called the “work a little/play a little” plan. Since many kids work best in short bursts, we set the timer for 30 minutes. After this period of focused (monitored) work, 30 minutes of play was scheduled.

Prioritizing

In the car, on our way to occupational therapy and speech therapy appointments, we played a game called, “What’s more important?” Since Sean liked science, I started out with questions like, “what’s more important—breathing or dancing?” We worked our way up to more sophisticated concepts like “What’s more important—taking your sick sister to the doctor or staying home to watch television?”

Use visuals in prioritizing tasks. Most computers come with features that allow the user to make to-do lists and rank each according to urgency or importance.

Transitions

Transitions are often difficult for individuals with AS. It is helpful to explicitly teach them about transition time. Talk about how they feel when they have to switch to another setting or activity. If they like trains, as many do, set up a train set. If Thomas the Train doesn’t switch tracks, he will miss out on the awesome drawbridge and tunnel. It’s important to be able to switch tracks!

Give cues prior to transitions whenever possible. A five-minute reminder is sufficient. Teachers often use little chants, sometimes with hand movements, to facilitate transitions to clean-up time or circle time. This is a handy tool for cueing kids with AS that there is a transition on the horizon.
  

 

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