Anyone who knows many children and adults with Asperger Syndrome (AS) knows that every person’s manifestation of the condition is very different. While they share significant social disability, some are very successful academically, some struggle with accomplishing work; some have intense intellectual interests that lead them to career paths, and others have intense interests that seem to have no practical use; some have a few friendships, others are desperately alone and lonely. Because Asperger Syndrome is an outcome of brain differences in combination with life experiences, no two individuals are exactly alike. Therefore, each student we encounter has different educational needs.
Least restrictive placement is an educational term that means that we want to provide students with the proper level of support for success without placing them in unnecessarily restrictive environments. For students with Asperger Syndrome, we want to provide the level of support that is necessary to help them optimize their skills and strengths without removing them from typical school experiences, if possible. Some students may need a protective environment if the mainstream educational placement is not healthy for them, while others only need a little support developing their social skills or organizational issues in a regular education setting. Matching the individual need to the level of support is critical to helping a child gain self-esteem and independence.
What every family with a member with Asperger Syndrome needs to consider is, how are the following issues being addressed?
The Development of Basic Social Skills and Social Relationship Abilities
School programs and community clinicians often provide social skills training. The quality and type of this training is critical to progress. Many activities called social skills are not based in solid research. Just because someone provides a child with opportunities for social interaction does not make the activity a useful social skills development experience. Specific skills at the child’s level of need coupled with opportunities for generalization outside of the formal training situation are necessary components for skill development to occur. Children with Asperger Syndrome typically have had great difficulty acquiring these skills that typical children simply pick up from their environment. We know that those with AS need specific help to perceive, acquire, and generalize basic social skills. Parents should always ask social skills trainers if they are utilizing proven, evidence-based techniques and if their child’s individual needs are being specifically addressed. If parents are not involved, a vital link for generalizability is and the earlier that appropriate interventions are in place the more likely it is that their independence potential is maximized and positive outcomes will be achieved. Possible school solutions include:
- Engaging a consultant to educate the student’s school and help with specific strategies that address such issues as seating in the classroom, developing peer mentors, identifying a safe person and place for relief of overstimulation, creating a system of concrete social rules that all personnel can encourage, encouraging a student’s special skills more systematically, and helping teachers become models of caring support through their own education about AS (Safran, 2002).
- Hiring a trained paraprofessional to work with the student
- Providing support services when needed: Speech and Language (pragmatics and social cognition), OT, PT, resource room, counseling by professionals trained in specific interventions for the population
- Having an honest discussion with a professional who understands whether the student’s needs can realistically be met in a mainstream setting and talking about alternatives
A professional who is very familiar with the wide array of expression of the condition can help families make a professional assessment of a child’s real needs and how they are currently being addressed. Each stage of development brings new challenges to all children. We need to be cognizant of the match between the student’s needs and strengths and the academic situation at hand. A school system that provided a wonderful environment in third grade may not be able to address the new challenges that middle school brings. Therefore, reappraisal of educational situations and the student’s maturity and appropriateness for them is a critical part of academic and personal success from preschool through college. Objective observations can be especially helpful in gaining an unbiased assessment of the success of the match of a school setting and the student’s current needs and bring a fresh eye to creative solutions to maintaining life in the mainstream.