Teaching Social Cues to Students with Asperger's

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Students with Asperger's Disorder can have difficulties with social interactions, especially with peers. This lesson provides strategies for teaching social cues and finding opportunities to model appropriate social interaction throughout the school day.

Social Interactions with Asperger's Disorder

You are a smart kid. You learn things quickly and memorize facts in school easily. You usually get good grades and do well on tests in class. In fact, you know every species of dinosaur that ever existed. But when it comes to recess, you have a tough time. You don't like talking to your classmates, and they usually walk away when you are trying to tell them something. Sometimes they even call you weird and laugh at you. You become frustrated and angry, so you play alone.

This is what it can be like for a child who has Asperger's Disorder. Asperger's Disorder is a high functioning form of Autism that usually causes a student to struggle with social interactions. This includes a lack of non-verbal cues and eye contact, high pitched or loud volume of voice, and interrupting. Usually, children with Asperger's want to interact and play with peers but do not understand social cues and nonverbal communication with other children. It is important that teachers provide these students with clear rules and modeling to help them fit in and gain meaningful relationships.

Social Rules

Students with Asperger's Disorder are usually fast learners and memorize things quickly, especially when clear and precise facts are given. A great strategy for teaching students with Asperger's is providing them with specific social rules for social interactions, just as they would have classroom rules for behavior.

Some examples could include:

  • Use eye contact when speaking to others.
  • Greet someone you see by saying, 'Hello, how are you today?'
  • Remember to listen when others are speaking.
  • Use inside voices when speaking to someone.

Sometimes teachers can even provide a list of rules for a student to keep handy to review before social interactions occur (before lunch, at recess, before visiting the park, etc.). Since memorization is usually a strength for a student with Asperger's, the rules will usually be remembered and referred to often by the student.

Role Playing

A fun way to practice social cues is to role play. Role playing is the process of acting out or performing a certain situation. This helps students with Asperger's Disorder become more confident and prepare for certain interactions. The student and teacher can perform a role play example so the Asperger's student can rehearse some conversations they may have during a particular interaction.

Some examples of role playing scenarios are:

  • Making a new friend.
  • Asking a group if you can join an activity.
  • Playing a board game.
  • Solving problems involving bullying, teasing or arguing.

It is also important for teachers to practice conversations during role play. Having a conversation can be something that comes very natural and easy for typically developing peers. However, for a child with Asperger's, it can be challenging. Focus on the tone/pitch of voice, the back and forth in the conversation, and even how to start and end a conversation appropriately.

Journaling and Comic Book Conversations

Students with Asperger's are usually good writers and can take detailed notes. Writing in a daily journal not only helps Asperger students write down daily interactions, it also helps monitor emotions. The student can draw illustrations, write poetry, and write a script of the conversation. The teacher can then review the journal with the student, talking about the emotions that they felt and why they felt that way. It also helps them to understand what they did right or wrong in a situation and what they could have done better.

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