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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001

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Subscribe to stay informed of xMinds events, opportunities for advocacy, relevant news articles, and regional programs, lectures, and workshops to help parents and educators improve the educational experiences of students on the autism spectrum.

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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001



Strategies
Intervention Strategies by Susan Stokes

Social Communication

The child with Asperger’s Syndrome typically exhibits highly articulate and verbose expressive language skills with large vocabularies, particularly regarding specific topics (high interest areas). However, his convincing language skills can easily be misinterpreted as advanced communication skills. In turn this can result in a mislabeling of the child’s actions as purposeful or manipulative, rather than behavior that is due to the child’s significant difficulty in understanding and using appropriate social communication skills. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome often lack social communication skills to sustain even minimal social communicative interactions in any of the following areas:

Conversational discourse skills: Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can generally engage in routine social interactions, such as greetings. However, they may exhibit significant difficulty engaging in extended interactions or “two-way” relationships (12). They can have difficulty initiating and maintaining appropriate conversations, engaging in conversational turn-taking, and changing topics in an appropriate manner. Their language can be extremely egocentric in that they tend to talk at people, instead of to them, exhibiting seemingly one-sided conversations (2). Incessant question asking can also be prevalent, as well as difficulty in repairing conversational breakdowns.

Understanding and using non-verbal social communication (discourse) skills:
 Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can have significant difficulty interpreting non-verbal social communication skills used to regulate social interactions (e.g., tone of voice, facial expressions, body postures, gestures, personal space, vocal volume, use of eye contact to “read” faces, etc.). For example, they may not understand that a raised vocal volume can convey an emotional state such as anger (e.g., A student with Asperger’s Syndrome stated, “Why are you talking louder? I can hear you” when his mother raised her voice to communicate anger). These children may also have difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues, which the listener might be giving to communicate that a conversational breakdown has occurred (e.g., facial expressions to indicate not understanding the message, boredom, etc.). Some children with Asperger’s Syndrome can exhibit conversational speech with a somewhat flat affect: limited vocal change regarding vocal tone, volume, pitch, stress and rhythm, particularly to indicate emotion and/or emphasize key words.

Narrative discourse skills: Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can exhibit difficulty with their narrative discourse skills, including relating past events, or retelling movies, stories, and T.V. shows in a cohesive and sequential manner. They may leave out important pieces of relational information, as well as referents, and may use many revisions, pauses and/or repetitions.
Example: A child with Asperger’s Syndrome was relating his weekend to the class. The child with Asperger’s Syndrome related: “Back through time, uhm, uhm, at my Grandma’s, uh, it was (pause) back through time. I was, I was, I (pause) I uh, a long time ago. I was at my Grandma’s.”

Social Communication Target Skills and Strategies for Intervention
The following social communication skills (pragmatic language skills) may be focused on for direct instruction, depending upon the child’s individualized needs:

• Initiation of appropriate social interactions for various situations through appropriate verbal utterances, rather than actions or behaviors (e.g., On the playground, the child with Asperger’s Syndrome should use the words “Wanna play chase?” to ask a peer to play tag, rather than going up to the peer and shoving them);
• Topic initiation of varied topics - not only topics related to high interest areas;
• Topic maintenance, particularly for topics initiated by others.
• Conversational turn-taking across 3-4 turns (reciprocal communication skills);
• Asking questions of others related to topics initiated by others;
• Calling attention to communicative utterances. The child directs his communication to someone by first calling the other person’s attention to himself;
• Comprehension and use of nonverbal social communication skills: tone of voice, personal space, vocal volume, body orientation, facial expressions, etc.;
• Narrative discourse skills: relating past events, retelling stories sequentially and cohesively by including important pieces of relational information as well as referents;
• Greetings;
• Seeking assistance appropriately (e.g., raising his hand for help in the classroom).

Tools for teaching social communication skills
All of the tools listed previously for teaching social skills can also be used to teach social communication skills, with the addition of the following:

Visual support strategies can be used to teach conversational discourse skills such as turn-taking, topic initiation, topic maintenance, etc. For example, a visual “my turn” card can be used to physically pass back and forth between conversational partners, to visually indicate who’s turn it is in the conversation.


Reprinted from "Children with Asperger's Syndrome: Characteristics/Learning Styles and Intervention Strategies" by Susan Stokes, Autism Consultant for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency #7, Wisconsin State Department of Special Education. 


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