Conference Day 1

22 03 2007

Following are some fairly unorganized reflections on Day One of a high functioning autism/asperger’s syndrome conference I attended 3/22-3/23.

One reference was made that struck me as odd: A parent has come to this presenter, a specialist in autism and asperger’s, and was having trouble with the child at home.  This parent requested some intervention by a therapist or other professional.  The specialist recommended that the first intervention should be to look at what is going on at the school as the stressor.  The child may be internalizing the stress and then letting it all out at home, so we need to figure out what at school may be causing the problem. 

While I agree that schools should work hard to make the day as successful as possible, I believe that there does need to be an outside of school element.  The first line of intervention if a parent has trouble at home should be in THE HOME.  All too often I find that schools are the first to be singled out as “the problem” when there are so many other parts of a child’s life that are factors.

We know that students who have disabilities in the autism spectrum have trouble when routines are changed.  They seem to have an inability to be flexible.  What does this result in?  For some, it means things like visual schedules and foreshadowing of upcoming events such as fire drills and field trips. 

My question is this: how do we prepare students who have these extra needs to be ready for a world that does not offer foreshadowing or visual schedules?  Those children who receive excessive support at younger ages will end up being less independent as adults because they are so accustomed to being pre-informed to anything. 

I believe that students need to be given that balance of support and challenge.  Unfortunately, I see that is not always happening.  In a way, it goes back to the aforementioned comment: schools are expected to have all of the answers.  If a student loses it during the day, we become a treatment facility.  Again, a school should do everything they can to offer support, but if we do not adequately challenge the child, when real life sets in, the young adult becomes a basket case because there is no public entity who can regulate his or her day.

When and how do we move away from the manipulation of the environment (giving extra cues and other accommodations that may be necessary at young ages) to students maturing towards flexibility? 

Academic Functioning:

Be sure to keep expectations clear – focus on one goal at a time.  For example, if in language arts, we are working on writing reports about Greek gods, and students need to choose one god to write about (and no students can do the same as any other), if a slow-to-decide student finally picks one and it’s the same as someone else has already chosen, is it worth the battle to tell the second student to find another god?  What is the goal of the lesson?  Writing, right?  So forget the need to have every kid do a different god because that’s not the main objective of this lesson.

That makes sense to me.

Social Skills

We shouldn’t expect people  with autism/asperger’s to be like the “neurotypical.”  That is, they probably will never assimilate into the set of social skills that much of a culture employs.  Because people with autism disorders often have limited skills with understanding and/or using social skills, they have difficulty understanding that different situations demand different skillsets.  One will act differently at school that at a friend’s birthday party. 

More time in social situations does not equal more social success. 

 Hidden Curriculum –

“Unspoken social skills” should be taught to this population (as well as many other students).  Can use teachable moments to point out the necessity of these skills.

Transition –

Make sure that the people from the next environment know about the written and unwritten accommodations being made for the child.

When making the switch from special ed to regular ed, what skills will the child need to have to succeed there?  Make sure they’re prepared before they get there…


Executive Functioning
Social Supports

All are areas to consider when planning for success of child.

Summary –

The day seemed to have one overarching theme: students with asperger’s/autism need a consistent routine and a great deal of proactive strategies to succeed.

A good deal of strategies were shared.  Many books were noted as useful guides. 

My overall opinion is based on my first question: how do we move students from needing intensive supports to get them to reach their potential as independent adults?  Certainly, it would need to be based on the individual student.  I think it would benefit all who work with these students to focus on the goal of the child.  Do we expect the student to live independently someday?  Or, will he/she live in an assisted living facility forever?  Based on that long-term goal, we can make an assessment of whether or not the child’s progress is fair, and whether the interventions and strategies used are giving the student the best chance at success.




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