University Life and Students with Asperger`s Syndrome

University Life and Students with Asperger’s
Syndrome: A Professor’s Guide.
How to recognize,
communicate with, and
support a student with
Asperger’s Syndrome
Audience: Professors at Oregon State University
Created by: Crista Ditzler
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome, also
known as AS, is defined
by the National Autistic
Society as: “A lifelong
developmental disability
that affects the way a
person communicates and
relates to people around
Common Trait
 “While Asperger’s is a continuum of
behaviors.... each individual will present
differently and with different levels of
severity of behaviors” (Carley, M., &
Gerhardt, P.).
 “What is common to everybody who has
an Asperger’s label is a significant
challenge to understanding non-verbal
behavior or social nuance. And
understanding social nuance really is
critical to success both in your classroom
and in campus life” (Carley, M., &
Gerhardt, P.).
Marcel Marceau/Online image
How many people in the US have AS?
 Because AS was only recently identified as a diagnosis, a count
of the number of individuals affected by this syndrome is still
hard to come by. Recent survey results from the National Institute
of Child Health and Mental Development estimate that 1 in 500
people have some form of AS.... Among people with Asperger’s,
the prevalence of males to females diagnosed represents a ratio of
4:1 (Asperger’s Association of New England).
AS Facts
AS is on the Autism spectrum
The spectrum is a continuum of traits, behaviors and
Students have a “lack of appreciation for social cues”
(Attwood, 1998, p.28).
 Many AS students have difficulty in communicating as they
may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony
and humor.(Autism
Students with AS often have idiosyncratic
behavior (Carley, M., & Gerhardt, P.).
AS Facts-Continued
Students with AS may have difficulty writing
legibly as they commonly have graphomotor skill
difficulties defined as the coordination of cognitive,
perceptual and motor skills, necessary to write
(Carley, M., & Gerhardt, P.).
 Students with AS often have sensory sensitivity
to sounds and smells as well as sights such as
florescent lights that disrupt learning (Carley, M.,
& Gerhardt, P.).
Students with AS often have very intense, very
idiosyncratic interests (Carley, M., & Gerhardt, P.).
AS Trait That Becomes A Strength
 Students with Asperger's Disorder
frequently like to collect categories of things,
such as rocks or bottle caps. They may be
proficient in knowing categories of
information (Autism
 This focus on subject can “be useful in the
higher education environment as the
individual may be able to spend their time
studying their particular interest.... The
unique qualities and different way of
thinking and experiencing the world brings
diversity to establishments and enriches the
student population”(The National Autistic
AS-An Isolating Disability
Many Asperger’s Syndrome students want to be
social but don’t understand the rules of social
engagement. The lack of pragmatic language
skills, those involving reciprocal language, and a
lack of eye contact are two prominent features of
AS students.
University Offers Hope
“For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome,
coming to university can be, for the first time in their
lives, an environment where they are not ostracised.
There may be other students that share their love of
maths or history, for example, and people who
finally accept them for who they are” (The National
Autistic Society).
Why Students Are Often Silent About Their Challenge:
The Stigma of Information Sharing
 From birth to death, ability is a salient and significant
aspect of identity (Allen, 2011).
 Individuals perceived to be abnormal or disabled are
likely to be labeled in ways that can stigmatize them for the
rest of their lives (Allen, 2011).
 Persons with disabilities endure a common set of
stigmatizing social values and debilitating socially
constructed hazards (Allen, 2011).
Common Perceptions Professors May Have of Students With
Asperger’s (When Student is Silent About Condition)
Student is “weird”
 Student is disrespectful and disruptive
 Student is not paying attention-eyes down
 Student is challenging authority-eyes staring
 Student is lazy
What’s the Difference: How do you tell a disruptive student
from a student with Asperger’s?
 Often a typically developing student who is disruptive in
class will alter his/her behavior when given a look or some
other non-verbal cue.
 An Asperger’s student will not generally respond to a
non-verbal signal that something is not going well, nor
recognize the stares of others.
 Sarcasm and nuanced language may confuse a student
with AS – this may lead to responses or comments by AS
students that seems inappropriate, out of place or rude.
 On the surface, AS students behaviors may resemble
many university student behaviors. The difference is the
level and frequency of disruption to learning that behaviors
Professor and Leader of your Class—
Things You Should Know
 “Your first meeting with an Asperger’s student won’t
necessarily indicate default to thinking that the person has such
a significant difference that they would have a disability label”
(Carley, M., & Gerhardt, P.).
“But as you spend time with them and get to know them as an
individual you will notice some differences about them
particularly compared to the rest of the students” (Carley, M., &
Gerhardt, P.).
 Talking with students and getting to know them outside of
class will allow a closer look at behaviors, making it easier to
understand what you are dealing with and whether or not it
might be AS.
Many times students with a diagnosis will share this
information if engaged in a conversation about behavior that is
respectfully handled outside of the classroom setting.
Classroom Specific Challenges for AS Students
 Difficulty with organizational skills is a key deficit in AS
students, including note taking, time management and followthrough
Verbal information may cause struggles in the class through
note-taking coordination, nuanced language confusion and
difficulty with organization of thoughts and materials
 Class participation/comments are sometimes off topic or “out
of the blue”
 Difficulty in reading body language and facial expressions
may make appropriate interaction in class with professors and
other students difficult for AS students
Instruction VS. Criticism
Asperger’s Syndrome is not a disorder of
motivation…. If you have a student with AS in
your class, it is because they deserve to be there.
Give them skills to succeed in your class by giving
them feedback in the form of instruction vs.
Dr. Peter F. Gerhardt, Ed. D. President, The Organization for Autism Research
Support in the Classroom
 Provide seating that allows for less distraction like the front of the
room or away from noisy equipment or lights
 Provide note-takers or allow tape recording lectures for students
with handwriting and organizational challenges
 Provide lecture notes in advance so student has context as well as
content of the material
 Speak with students after class to discuss expectations as it relates
to the student and their individual challenge
 Remember, you set the tone. If you treat students with respect
and show them you are flexible toward diverse learning, then so will
the rest of the students in your class
Dr. Peter F. Gerhardt, Ed. D. President, The Organization for Autism Research
Where would we be without them?
Famous people thought to have had AS
 Albert Einstein provided the theory of relativity and was awarded the Nobel
Prize in Physics for the work he did with photoelectric effect. Characteristics, which
may indicate that Einstein was a fellow Aspie: Einstein could not speak fluently at
the age of nine.... His parents suspected that he might actually be mentally retarded
(Botham, 2006, p. 16).
 Isaac Newton dropped out of school as a teenager (Botham, 2006, p. 15). A
person with Asperger's may not be able to accept rules in school if they appear
illogical, pursuing a point or argument "as a matter of principle," which can lead
"to a significant conflict with teachers and school authorities," (Attwood, 2006, p.
 Beethoven was such a poor music student, that his music teachers decided he
was hopeless as a composer and each time he sat to write music, he reportedly
"poured ice water over his head," (Botham, 2006, p. 30), indicating the potential
inability to "show" what he could do and a potential preoccupation of sensory
experiences (Attwood, 2006, p. 4), or need for unproductive idiosyncratic routine.
Final Thoughts
“Many of the things you can count, don’t count.
Many of the things you cannot count, really count”
--Albert Einstein
“To become a truly inclusive society…we first have to acknowledge
the different challenges that are faced by those who are in the
behavioral minority, because what we are after is the same
opportunity to success, not the right to success”
Michael John Carley, Executive Director of GRASP
and Author of Asperger’s From the Inside Out.
Resources for students and professors
Allen, B. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity (2nd Edition).
Long Grove, IL : Waveland Press, Inc.
Asperger’s Association of New England website. Retrieved on April 14, 2011
Attwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals.
London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Autism Society website. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from
Carley, M., & Gerhardt, P. (2008). The college professor’s introductory guide to their students who are on the
autism spectrum. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from
Disabled World website. Retrieved on May 1, 2011 from
National Autistic Society website. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from

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