Serving students with AS in middle school

Elisa Gagnon, M.S.Ed.

Cory, a sixth-grade middle school student with Asperger Syndrome, was in trouble again. He refused to go to gym class because the unit was basketball and he was terrible at basketball. He felt humiliated that he was always picked last. When his special education teacher — a teacher with expertise in behavior disorders — gave him the choice of going to gym or the time-out room, Cory yelled loudly that he was not going to either place! Later when the assistant principal gave him the choice of gym or time-out, Cory kicked him and was subsequently assisted to the time-out room by several adults. Unfortunately, this was not an unusual occurrence in the school. Many school districts are finding it difficult to meet the needs of the growing population of students identified with Asperger Syndrome. With the onset of puberty, increasing awareness that they are somehow different from their peers and a demanding curriculum, middle school students with Asperger Syndrome frequently fall apart. Their grades plunge, anxiety increases and organization becomes nonexistent.

Teachers and other professionals often blame children as well as their families for not trying harder and doing better. Frustrated families blame the schools for not providing adequate services, including modifications and accommodations. Unfortunately, once this cycle begins, the needs of the child become lost in the “blame game.”

An effective solution is a resource room specifically designed for students with Asperger Syndrome. Such a room and the staff who works there can be instrumental in providing a program that will meet the needs of this challenging population of students. Keys to success include a trained staff with adequate support, a home base or safe place, and use of research-based strategies.

Trained Staff
The teacher assigned to the resource room must be knowledgeable about Asperger Syndrome and the strategies necessary to ensure success for students. Since some of the students may need to be in a self-contained room at least part of the time, the teacher also must have access to the general education curriculum, including appropriate textbooks and teacher manuals. It is also important that the teacher have the time and skills to provide ongoing training to all the staff members who will work with these children on a daily basis.

Paraprofessionals or classroom aides are an important part of the staff. Typically, students with Asperger Syndrome do not need a one-on-one aide but may share an aide with other students in a general education classroom. The aide may be responsible for checking organization, taking notes and monitoring social skills, among other things.

It also helps if the teacher and the support staff learn to turn a deaf ear to criticism from those who do not understand the demanding and diverse needs of students with Asperger Syndrome and, therefore, may think these kids are pampered and get preferential treatment.

Home Base/Safe Place
The resource room should be seen as a home base or a safe place. The resource teacher or another trained staff member should be in the room at all times to serve as a safe person to a student who needs additional support. The room should contain sensory materials as determined by an occupational therapist, as well as individual and group work spaces. And social skills should be taught on a scheduled basis.

Research-Based Strategies
Using research-based strategies — what we know works — is the third area that can be addressed in a specialized resource room. For example, a sensory diet has proven to be an effective way to prevent tantrums and meltdowns, so this should be considered for each student in the program. Since we know that students often benefit from visual schedules, a visual schedule should be in place for each student and checked frequently throughout the day.

In seventh grade Cory’s placement was changed to a resource room for students with Asperger Syndrome. Although he still chooses to not play basketball in gym class, he participates in an exercise program three days a week at school. He is relaxed and confident, and a time-out room is no longer necessary for him. By focusing on his strengths and providing a positive support plan, he is thriving and enjoys school each day.

Elisa Gagnon, M.S.Ed. has over 15 years’ experience working with children and youth with autism and Asperger Syndrome in the public schools, Elisa is the author of This Is Asperger Syndrome (with Brenda Myles) and, Power Cards: Using Special Interests to Motivate Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome and Autism

Courtesy of AAPC

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