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Helping Asperger's Syndrome Students Adapt to Classroom Transitions

written by: Dr. Anne Zachry • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 5/26/2015

Asperger's syndrome is a disorder that is part of the autism spectrum. Students who have this syndrome are prone to intense anxiety due to changes in routine, and this can create problems at school. Here are some ways to prepare an Asperger's child for upcoming classroom transitions.

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    Asperger's Syndrome: Characteristics

    One of the developmental disorders that is included on the autism spectrum is Asperger's syndrome. People with Asperger's syndrome ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder 

    tend to be highly verbal and intelligent, but they lack the natural ability to properly socialize with others and they tend to display obsessive behaviors. Asperger's children in the classroom may struggle with transitioning between activities due to their fear of changes in routine, disruption and the unknown. These issues can quickly escalate into extreme tantrums and emotional meltdowns for the Asperger's child. Teachers can help to prevent this by using a variety of techniques designed to make classroom transitions smoother for students with Asperger's syndrome.

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    Transition Challenges For Asperger's Students

    Younger children with Asperger's disorder have a particularly hard time adjusting to the daily activities of a classroom. This is because Asperger's syndrome affects the frontal lobes of the brain, which is the area that handles executive functioning. This area of the brain controls the ability to switch mental mindsets, or transition from one activity to another. This is also the area of the brain that allows us to adjust our thoughts and tells us when to wait.

    Because Asperger's children have problems with their executive functions, it is often difficult for these students to move from one place to another. It is also challenging to stop one task and initiate another. Impulse control may also be an issue for these students. In some situations, Asperger’s children switch tasks abruptly at inappropriate times.

    For example, students with Asperger's syndrome may become so intensely involved with building a train track during free time that they cannot easily transition to sitting at the table for an art project. Their minds are rigidly focused on their current interests, and having to abandon such interests can provoke an attack of nerves and anxiety.

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    Transition Tips for Asperger's Students

    One way that teachers can ease the transitional process for young students with Asperger's syndrome is to use picture charts. These charts clearly show each activity that takes place during the school day: a separate picture for each part of the day can be attached or removed from the board with Velcro. Asperger's children respond well to visual cues, and the picture chart will serve as a reminder that one activity has ended and another is starting. For example, a teacher could say to an Asperger's student, "Snack Time is over soon, would you like to remove the Snack Time picture from the chart?" This process can be completed for all activities, and children with Asperger's syndrome will eventually learn to anticipate the classroom routine. When using visual schedules, it is often helpful to alternate preferred and non-preferred activities so that the student has something to look forward to after a non-preferred activity.

    Timers are also useful tools to help student’s with Asperger’s syndrome deal with transitions. The times can be clearly set, showing the child how much time is allowed until their current activity must end. There are many different types of timers available, including digital times, egg timers and basic kitchen timers. Select the timer that best meets an individual’s childs needs. For example, digital times may be more appropriate for students who know their numbers, while egg timers may work best for younger children.

    Natural stopping points can also provide cues for transition times for Asperger's students. For example, the end of a chapter in a book can be marked with a bookmark, and the child can be told, "when you finish the chapter, we will take a break." Other natural stopping points, such as the end of a TV show can be used as reminders. For example, "when the TV show is over, it's time for you to take a bathroom break."

    Teachers can use verbal cues to remind older students with Asperger's that a transition will be forthcoming. Students who understand the concept of time will be prepared to end their present activity when they hear sentences such as "Math is ending in five minutes, then it will be time for Science." Keeping a written log of the daily classroom schedule highly visible for Asperger's students is also an effective way of preparing them to adjust their mindsets for the changes that will be occurring. Teachers should also provide ample time for notifying children with Asperger's syndrome of a special event that is not a normal part of the classroom routine. Unpredictable events such as student assemblies and fire drills can still be positive experiences if the students have a clear awareness of when they will take place. For example, these activities can be added to a visual schedule, or the teacher can simply write on the board, "fire drill today, or special assembly at 10:00 a.m."

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    Though classroom transitions are more challenging for students with Asperger's syndrome than for neurotypical children, teachers will find that day-to-day school routines can run more smoothly when the suggested strategies are utilized. Being willing to help Asperger's children in the classroom to adapt and offering emotional support facilitates a smoother process with transitions.

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