Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum: Considerations for College Dana Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D Autism • Spectrum disorder • Broad range of abilities • Major characteristics: o Communication deficits o Social deficits o Excessive and troubling behavior Asperger’s Syndrome • Autism without the language difficulty • “Little professors” • Can appear to be “normal” but difficult to deal with • Difficulty with social language – may not understand idioms, sarcasm, etc. • Diagnosis is being eliminated from DSM-V. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252). (CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report, 2008) Evidence-based treatments • The only evidence-based treatment for autism is applied behavior analysis (ABA) o Includes many different procedures o All procedures are based on the same scientific principles • Other autism treatments are not supported by research Early intervention • New York State Clinical Guidelines mandate a high level of intensive early intervention • 15-20 years ago, parents were fighting for and getting extremely intensive services for very young children • Those children are now college age and are more likely to be college-ready than children who did not get intensive services College! • Big transition • Variable environment • Socially exciting and demanding • High degree of independence • Physical campus For someone with an ASD All of the things that are hard about college for someone without an ASD are . . . and then some . . . magnified . . . Success in college • • • • Problem solving abilities Understanding one’s disability Goal-setting Self-management These skills are often limited in individuals with ASD. (Getzel & Thoma, 2008) Disability accommodations • Many students with ASD will benefit from disability accommodations • Survey of disability offices shows that most provide the same accommodations to students with AS as those provided to students with other disabilities • Need for individualized accommodations (Smith, 2007) Commonly provided accommodations • • • • • Preferential seating Notes provided Tape-recorded lectures Alternate setting and extended time for exams Not required by ADA, but may be helpful: o o o o o Additional assistance with course selection Exemption from certain courses Exemption from group work Alternative exam format Flexibility in due dates (Andreon & Durocher, 2007) The “invisible” disability • Lacking any disabling physical characteristics, students with ASD may appear “typical” and seem very capable in certain areas • Faculty and other students may be frustrated by their behavior because they are unaware of the cause (Camarena & Sarigiani, 2009) Poor self-awareness Students with ASD • May choose not to disclose their disability • May feel they don’t need accommodations • May not even know about their disability (Camarena & Sarigiani, 2009) Faculty awareness • Be aware of the characteristics of ASDs • Consider that a struggling student might have an ASD and not know about it or not wish to disclose it • Possible signs: o o o o o o o Disorganized, poor time management, poor executive functioning Poor self-care Scattered skills (may be really good in some areas, very weak in others) Difficulty socializing Poor eye contact, unusual speech patterns, may seem aloof or anxious May not understand sarcasm, idioms, or jokes May be overly assertive or verbally inappropriate – too many jokes, excessive sarcasm, loud, “pushy” What you may do differently for these students • Maintain as much consistency as possible • Have a higher degree of 1:1 contact with the student than with other students • Consult with advisor, Disability Office, and others about individual student needs • Give students more explicit feedback than usual Executive functioning May be late, get lost, forget things, forget due dates • Provide visual supports, including maps, lists, and schedules • Incorporate additional prompts for due dates (e.g., text messages or emails) • Pair student with a peer who is able to give reminders • Maintain consistency in expectations, communication, etc. May get overwhelmed by large projects, wait until the last minute to work on them • Provide assistance in breaking tasks down into smaller steps Self-care May neglect hygiene, health concerns, not eat well, not sleep or take medications • Be on the lookout for behavior changes that might reflect neglect of these areas • If you have a relationship with the student, try speaking to them about it • Get in touch with any other faculty or campus based contacts who might be close enough to address • Reach out to parents Social difficulties May be more vulnerable with peers due to lack of social skills and understanding • Be aware of greater vulnerability to bullying • Be aware of potentially problematic attempts at romantic relationships (e.g., misunderstandings) • Pair the student with a tolerant, supportive peer • Create structured opportunities to socialize • Encourage the use of technology to connect with people at first (Facebook, Twitter, texting) May have a hard time with group/partner work • Offer to help get into a group or meet a partner • Consider allowing individual work or smaller groups instead • Outline how work should be divided among group members Communication difficulties May not pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues May appear disrespectful, demanding, or fail to reach out for help and support • Make expectations very clear on both sides o How to address you, how to contact you o When they can expect responses to emails and phone calls • Be explicit in communication – subtlety probably won’t work • Provide concrete rules and stick to them o “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I’m not able to interrupt my teaching to answer questions throughout the class. Please limit yourself to 2 questions during the lesson. If you still have questions at the end of class, I can sit with you for 10 minutes and go over anything you want.” Language difficulties May not understand complex and abstract language • Provide “translations” as appropriate • May need to adjust expectations or guide towards appropriate subjects that are more concrete May not express him/herself well in front of the class, especially with little warning • Consider building up this skill, not calling on student unless s/he volunteers, or only calling on student for topics known to be comfortable Difficulty in writing is common • Provide outlines, templates, very clear instructions • Consider grading more on content than on writing, while working on writing skills separately • Refer for writing help Rigidity May be reluctant to talk about/work on topics that are not high interest • Offer incentives for participation o May be as simple as clarifying the extent to which their grade will be affected • Provide choices if possible • Negotiate equal time – ahead of time, if possible o “Baseball is a great analogy for this topic, but it shouldn’t be the basis for your paper. You can use the baseball example at the beginning and end, but not in the middle.” • Offer to continue off-topic conversations at another time o “Great story! I’d love to hear more, but we’re getting behind. Come to office hours and fill me in on that sometime.” May resist changes or simply be unable to track them. • If changes are necessary, give lots of warning, explicit alternative instructions, and be prepared for some resistance May have a narrow focus • Take advantage if possible • If a broader perspective is necessary, be clear about that and provide examples May be a perfectionist • Model making mistakes • Frame errors as learning opportunities Learning differences May be extremely competent in some areas, and extremely weak in others • Suggest tutoring, pair with a peer who is willing to help • Provide additional materials May not process information well in certain modalities • Consider offering alternatives o o Find out if texts are available as audio books Provide written transcripts of lectures or lecture notes May avoid work that is “too hard” or that appears to duplicate something that’s been done before • Be clear about impact on their grade, and stick with it • Be prepared that student may be happy enough with a lower grade Sensory differences May be affected by stimuli that you don’t even notice • Be aware, offer changes as appropriate May not be aware of the most important stimuli • Highlight stimuli for the student o o Use his/her name or stand closer when addressing him/her Use color coding or other visual cues May process stimuli differently • Explore what helps student – chances are he/she has some idea of what’s needed May have a physical need to move or escape at times • Reduce distraction for others by seating student in the back • Talk to student about how to excuse him/herself without being disruptive Support, not excuse-making • Whether or not the student has a known ASD, support can be provided in specific areas • Maintain content, curriculum, class rules and contingencies; there is no need to change expectations • Aim to help improve functioning References Andreon, D. & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42, 271-279. Camarena, P. M. & Sarigiani, P. A. (2009). Postsecondary educational aspirations of high-functioning adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and their parents. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 24, 115-128. Getzel, E. E. & Thoma, C. A. (2008). Experiences of college students with disabilities and the importance of self-determination in higher education settings. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31, 77-84. Smith, C. (2007). Support services for students with Asperger's syndrome in higher education. College Student Journal, 41, 515-531.