Instructing Students with Asperger Syndrome

Classroom Tips

Whenever you have a student with a disability in your class, it is not necessary to rewrite your entire course; usually, simple modifications in the presentation of materials and evaluation methods should suffice to make your course accessible for students with Asperger Syndrome.

Asperger Syndrome Definition

“Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder that is characterized by deficits in social skills, communication and unusual repetitive behaviors. The core feature appears to be the individual’s inability to understand thoughts, feelings, and motivations of other people and to use this understanding to regulate his or her own life behaviors.” (Wolf & Thierfeld Brown, 2009)

Individuals with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate a range of symptoms, therefore class modifications and strategies should be provided on a case by case basis. Below are some likely symptoms and behaviors you may observe in a student with this condition. However, these traits are not apparent in all students with Asperger Syndrome; some may be subtle while others more obvious. Please keep in mind if you have any questions, concerns, or require additional assistance, feel free to contact Disability Support Services (DSS).

Typical Symptoms

  • Poor eye contact
  • Inappropriate social interaction
  • Unusually narrow interests
  • Above average to superior intelligence
  • Lacks voice intonation
  • Impulsive
  • Very literal and concrete thinking patterns

Classroom Behaviors

  • Monopolizes conversation
  • Tangential in answering questions
  • Exhibits distracting behavior in long classes
  • Engages in repetitive, self- stimulating behavior (e.g. rocking, tapping, playing with “stress toys”)
  • Appear argumentative or rude
  • Delayed response to questions

“If you’ve met one student with Asperger’s you’ve met one student with Asperger’s." (Wolf, 2009)

Not only is it important that not every student with Asperger’s will exhibit the same behavior and symptoms; some students may just be quirky! In addition to the struggles of students with Asperger’s, these students have many strengths- such as passion in their chosen field of study, strong work ethic, and often superior intelligence.

In Class Strategies

  • Announce at the start of several class meetings that students with disabilities can have a separate meeting with you to discuss the modifications or adaptations he or she may need.
  • Be explicit when providing course expectations and exam or assignment directions.
  • Ask students to repeat directions in their own words to check comprehension
  • Avoid idioms, double meaning, and sarcasm, unless you plan to explain your usage
  • When revising assignments or dates, provide these instructions in writing.
  • If the student disrupts the class by monopolizing discussions or by asking questions repeatedly, speak to them individually and be direct in providing behavioral limits (e.g. 2 questions per class, etc.)
  • Additional supports might be needed when an assignment involves group work.
  • Prior to each exam, discuss how the student’s accommodation for taking tests will be provided.
  • During class discussions, redirect the student if he/she is off topic. Discuss cues that you and the student agree to that let the student know he/she is getting off topic.
  • Provide breaks during class for movement, when possible.
  • With group work, assign roles and groups when possible.

Wolf, L.E. & Thierfeld Brown, J. (2009), Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel