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Volume 79

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Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…

Autism and School
Work Too Easy or Too Hard? Striking a Balance

For kids with autism as well as kids without, it is very important that their schoolwork and educational activities be matched with their ability level. Why? Several reasons are at play.

1.  Autism Child Education – Not Enough Challenge

The child who is not challenged enough will become bored and likely to act out. Especially with a child with autism/Asperger’s syndrome, he may feel that the teacher doesn’t believe he is capable of work any more difficult, and he will then believe he is not able to do anything more difficult. He may never get a chance to develop abilities that will otherwise lie dormant.

2. Autism Child Education – Too Much Challenge

The child with autism who is challenged too much will become overwhelmed and may be at risk for developing learned helplessness. If you fail at enough tasks in a row, pretty soon you’re just going to stop trying. It’s too hard to keep failing. You might never want to try again if you keep getting the message over and over again that you can’t do something. Needless to say, we don’t want this.

This also is a problem with teens and socialization. If a child fails for years to develop friends, then he or she may simply give up and become reclusive.

3. Autism Child Education – Striking the Right Balance

The educational theory that describes this best is called zone of approximal development. It states that a child should be given work or tasks that are one step beyond what the child can achieve with help. That is, the child should be shown how and supported in doing the next step. When they have achieved that step, the feeling of self-confidence will buoy them into the next step, and the next.

But don’t let them do it without some kind of support – cueing, or hints, or arranging the variables of the situation to best ensure success. A little help goes a long way in raising a child’s confidence that they can do something. The next time, they will probably be able to do it without support.

How Can You Tell If Your Child Is Being Over or Under Challenged?

Keep in constant connection with your child’s teacher. Ask to see the work he or she is doing. You know your child best. Is he struggling more than you think he should? Is he acing the work in one particular subject or more? Is he making any comments about school that would lead you to think there is a problem?

Comments such as “Why do I always have to do the baby stuff?” or “What’s the point? I’ll never be able to do that,” would point to two extremes in the situation, and extreme reluctance to go to school or faking illness may be another sign that something is up.

My Personal Experience

My son, when in middle school, was constantly frustrated that he had to do repetitive math problems. Once he understood how to do the problems he rebelled at having to do a whole page of similar problems (sometimes an hour’s worth or work).

No matter that we tried to explain to him that “practice makes perfect” he simply did not understand and it was battle after battle. We eventually spoke with his teachers — who were not very sympathetic. Teachers rarely want to customize work for an individual student — especially in a class of 30 students. We eventually convinced the teacher to give our son somewhat more challenging problems and allow him to skip the repetitive math problems once he felt he knew how to do them.

Autism Education – The Law

Remember, your child is guaranteed a “free and appropriate” education under federal law. If you feel that his placement is not right, you can ask to have things changed. You can ask for more help for your child, or arrange for extracurricular enrichment activities for a child that is gifted in one area but lacking in others. The important thing to remember is to try to match all areas of your child’s abilities and disabilities to the appropriate educational setting – easier said than done, I know, but worth fighting for.

Autism Education – Conclusion

Work closely with your child’s teacher. Explain to the teacher your child’s reaction to their homework and classwork. Children with autism and high-functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) do not respond well to assignments that are either under OR over challenging.

Additional Information on Education Help and Autism

For additional information to help you and your child with autism succeed in school and to learn your rights, see my book, The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide.

20 Responses to Autism Education – Work Too Easy or Too Hard? Striking a Balance – 79

  1. Arleen Williams says:

    Most staes have an Advocacy Center where lawyers assist with student rights. This is a free service. For those families needing assistance with correct placement and IEP/504 Accommodation issues, try calling your state’s Advocacy Center. They will intercede on your behalf to insure the educational rights of students.

  2. Teri says:

    My son is 9. He has Asperger’s. Last year he home-schooled. This year he is in a private Christian school. We held him back b/c his math still wasn’t up to grade level even though we had greatly worked on it during his year @ home. He has a wonderful teacher but things are beginning to become a bit more difficult for him so he is
    “faining” illness @ bedtime & asking, “Do I have to go to school tomorrow if I don’t feel good?” I think part of his struggles are social. We are praying about whether or not we should put him back in public school. (He received Special needs Pre-K for two years & then was @ the same school for Kindergarten & 1st grade all with a resouces team & IEP.) We get OT once a week through insurance but no school services right now. We know the public school resources would be an advantage but are not convinced the secular atmosphere is where we want him. Any advice Craig?

    • Craig Kendall says:

      One advantage of the Christian school may be that it is smaller and is more rules oriented. For example, many Catholic or Christian schools have a more strict dress code which is better for kids with autism. This is because kids with autism want routine and rules that do not vary. Public schools can be more “go with the flow” and can be less rigid…which is not necessarily a benefit for children who crave routine.

      In general, you should listen to your therapist who knows your child best. I suggest that your son stay in whichever school he seems to do best in. I would not worry about math skills. I would worry about social and communication skills. He MUST develop enough social skills to have at least one friend. If your son does not seem to be developing friendships then he is failing…irrespective of any math scores he attains.

  3. lydia says:

    Another thought; skills that build and require steps are difficult. Though a student may appear bright in math, they may fall apart when they have to use seperate tasks one leading to the other to arrive at a solution, again executive functioning. So they need “maps” to solve the problems. Again, as the student appears smart, teachers often are stimied when they can’t perform well.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Great observation. This is why adults with Asperger’s / autism often have a LOT of difficulty staying organized. Very smart people with autism are often challenged when they have to string a series of activities together. This, of course, hurts a person’s long-term job prospects.

  4. lydia says:

    As all people do, those on the spectrum have strengths and weaknesses. So when looking if a child is challenged enough or under challenged one would most likely find places where the child is both. The biggest challenging area is usually those areas that require executive functioning…planning, follow through, making choices…These are the most difficult things to teach and teachers often view them as behaviors of laziness or non compliance.

  5. Sheila Bliss says:

    My son has Aspergers. He cannot have an IEP. In the State of Iowa, he is not suspected of having a disability.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      First, you are dealing with a bureaucracy. They are very rules rigid. If you fit into their check box forms, you are OK. If you don't they you are not OK. You likely need a formal diagnosis from a "professional". The best is a psychiatrist…it is hard for a school to ignore a written evaluation from a doctor who says your child has autism. But a therapist with credentials can give your son an evaluation and documentation that he has autism and needs an IEP. If you don't get an IEP consider a 504 Plan. Read this article on 504 Plan Accommodations for Students with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. This article also sends you to a link for specific information for Iowa (any all other 50 states).

      If you are not sure what the difference is between a 504 Plan and an IEP, read this articles on Difference Between and IEP and 504 Plan for Autism/Asperger's Syndrome Students.

  6. Carrie says:

    We’ve had an IEP for almost 3 years and his teachers still don’t “get it” with my son. He’s now 13, 8th grade, and does not work unless continuously prompted. He has an inclusion teacher in 2 classes, but in a full class for the other 2 main core classes. We have our next IEP meeting next week and I’m asking for more assistance. They think he’s just lazy and can be successfull if he just would do the work. He gets totally overwhelmed – just like you mentioned in #2 above, and shuts down.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      You are in a tough situation…but this is a common response unfortunately. Perhaps show them this article. Explain to them that your son gets totally overwhelmed and shuts down. The school just does not understand your son and his needs. YOU must be his advocate and explain it to them. Do you have a therapist or doctor who can “go to bat” for you? If you can bring your son’s therapist with you to the meeting and have an independent third party explain the situation, this often helps.

      • Mark says:

        We are in a very similar situation to Carrie and have gotten nowhere with the teachers or administration. Add being bullied to the academic challenges. Last academic year we were told that our child was the target of bullying incidents 42 times at school including a stabbing. We have asked repeatedly for writing assignment help and have not received assistance from the teachers. The teachers also let our child play computer games in study hall and run errands for teachers. The studies sit until after school and it has become a mountain of schoolwork to complete before deadlines. We have nearly nightly meltdowns and our child is extremely frustrated. We do not know where to seek help.

      • Craig Kendall - Author says:

        You are in a situation that is unfortunately all too familiar. While some schools are very supportive, some are useless…especially when it comes to bullying. This article on Children with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome – Tips to Avoid Bullying may help.

  7. shehzad says:

    hi my son is a six years old boy, is a known case of PDD-NOS, going to a school in karachi pakistan,he is speechless but understands things upto 50-60%
    watchs all the day TV and cartoon videos. does not sit for some work,takes bath tooo much,gets nude etc .. what to do?

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Does your son see a therapist? Is there any type of help that you can get for your son? For children who have no speech, there are new ideas and therapies that have shown promise. One is music therapy where a child who in non-verbal (i.e. speechless) learns to communicate through music.

  8. myeuegia says:

    I like to know more information but a not knowso much inglish , can give me the information in spanish

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Hopefully, we will be able to translate the pages into other langues in the future. At the moment, we only publish in English. Have you tried Google Translate? This may help.

  9. Florence says:

    A therapist started working with him about eight months ago. He is just adjusting to this new life. There is improvement. We are on IEP, he does no allow me to give assistance with his asignments.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      I am glad that your son is showing improvement with his therapist’s help. The IEP is very useful … try to make sure the IEP has quantitatively measurable goals to ensure that you can measure the progress your child is making.

  10. susan von sprecken says:

    What wonderful information. This will help me to better understand my child’s success in school and help me to give her the support that she needs from me, her mother, and her teachers. Thank you for such vital information. S. vonSprecken

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