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Learning a Second Language: Issues for Teaching Young People With Asperger's Syndrome

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/4/2012

This article explores the issue of Asperger's second language acquisition; when and how to teach a second language to a young person with Asperger's Snydrome. Read on to learn about Asperger's Syndrome and how to teach effectively to a person with this syndrome.

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    What is Asperger's Syndrome?

    Asperger's Syndrome is a condition which is placed upon the Autism Spectrum. It is known as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. People who are affected by Asperger's Syndrome are, as a general rule, more able to function independently than someone with autism, and they are often able to develop a greater range of skills in academic contexts. Sometimes people with Asperger's Syndrome are diagnosed early in life (as is generally the case with people with autism) but sometimes they are not diagnosed until adulthood. Asperger's Syndrome can cause difficulties in areas of functioning including:

    • communication
    • social skills and interpersonal interactions
    • activities of daily living
    • social and emotional development
    • imagination and abstract thinking

    Some people with Asperger's Syndrome have cognitive skills which are well developed and have an IQ which is in the normal or above average range, while others may have an intellectual disability as a concurrent condition with their Asperger's Syndrome.

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    Second Language Issues

    One of the issues to consider when planning a teaching program for second language acquisition is whether learning a second language is the highest priority for a person with Asperger's Syndrome. To make this decision, you will need to consult with:

    • the student themselves
    • parents or care-givers if applicable
    • others involved in the planning of teaching programs to the student

    You will need to weigh the importance of the person acquiring a second language, what else they could potentially be learning in that time (such as literacy, numeracy or community based independence skills) and their right to access a full range of academic learning programs, including learning a language. It is wise to consider these issues in the light of the person's IEP (Individual Education Plan) if they have one.

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    In Class Strategies

    There are some useful strategies and considerations when teaching a language to someone with Asperger's Syndrome. Here are a few suggestions:

    Find out how they learn best - this information may be in their IEP, or you could talk to the person about their preferred learning styles

    Concrete examples - you may find that concrete, meaningful, real life examples of language work best, and that abstract or imagination based tasks are much more challenging

    Role play - this is a handy strategy, providing the young person is able to understand that it is a role play and not a real life event that you are conducting

    Language in action - show how language is used in a practical way, with language being used in cooking tasks, when reading a magazine, in online activities or in conjunction with other learning (such as games on an interactive whiteboard) or through specialized teaching resources

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    Myth Busting

    You may come across some myths about Asperger's Syndrome from time to time. This is a good chance to dispel a few!

    People with Asperger's Syndrome are not geniuses - they have a particular condition which affects many facets of their life. You may observe them operating in a particularly skilled way in some discreet areas (such as remembering numbers or sequences) but this does not make the person a genius.

    Movies are not real life. The portrayal you see in movies sometimes of people with an autism spectrum disorder does not always reflect true life!

    Asperger's Syndrome is not caused by poor parenting - this theory has been well and truly put to bed, although only after many generations of shattered parents have suffered great emotional turmoil blaming themselves and being blamed by others for the disability of their young person. Avoid perpetuating any myths yourself - take the time to learn about Asperger's Syndrome second language acquisition through further reading and professional development.