Working With Students With Autism

Marcie W. Handler, Paula Kluth, and Stephen Shore discussed teaching strategies and behavior management techniques for the general and special education classroom.

Working With Students With Autism

  • Marcie W. Handler, director of home and school consultation at May Institute, has provided training and behavioral consultation in system-wide, classroom, and individual positive behavior support practices for 15 years. She and her colleagues have been awarded grants by the Massachusetts Department of Education to provide summer institutes for educators working with children with ASD in the general education classroom.
  • Paula Kluth is a consultant, teacher, inclusion facilitator, and advocate on the topic of autism spectrum disorders. She has authored six books on autism and inclusion, including “You’re Going to Love This Kid!” Her research and professional interests include differentiating instruction and supporting students with autism and significant disabilities in inclusive classrooms.
  • Stephen Shore, author of Understanding Autism for Dummies and Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, is a professor at Adelphi University where he teaches courses in special education and autism. Diagnosed as a child with “Atypical Development with strong autistic tendencies,” Shore presents and consults internationally.

Elizabeth Rich (Moderator):
Welcome to our live chat on working with students with autism--an issue that concerns educators, administrators, and parents.

Our guests today are three experts on autism spectrum disorders. Marcie Handler, director of home and school consultation at May Institute, provides training and behavioral consultation for educators and families working with children with ASD. A former classroom teacher, Paula Kluth is an inclusion facilitator, consultant, and author of six books on autism and inclusion. Stephen Shore is an author and educator on the topic of special education and autism. Diagnosed as a child with “Atypical Development with strong autistic tendencies,” Shore presents and consults internationally.

I’m Elizabeth Rich, an online editor for, and I’ll be your moderator today.

We have received a lot of great questions already, so let’s get started.

Question from D. Jackson, ASD Consultant:

When a student with ASD is aggressive for no apparent reason,(No clear antecedent triggers are observed) what do I do?

Paula Kluth:

This is always a hard question because there are so many antecedents we, as teachers, cannot detect. For instance, a student may hear a sound you don’t hear or be frightened by something that isn’t scary to others. For instance, I knew a child who would react every time he saw Halloween images (e.g., cartoon ghosts). These images were not scary to others, but they were to him. So without knowing what is causing it, it is hard to offer solutions. I would talk to the family and see if they can guess. I would also ask any teachers (or therapists or social workers, etc) from his past who have had success with him. See this link from my website to get a “strengths and strategies” tool to use for this purpose. In any instance you can always do a sensory inventory to make sure he is comfortable (is the lighting ok, how about seating), make sure he has motivating and interesting curriculum (boredom will cause a lot of behavior problems), provide appropriate channels for communication (another common cause of behavior problems), provide opportunities for breaks and plenty of movement, and ensure that he or she has plenty of opportunities to interact with and enjoy activities with peers.

Question from Joanne Calver, Resource, HH School:

How do you effectively support regular classroom teachers in providing appropriate education, when they are feeling overwhlemed by the programming demands, and simply want you to provide pull out support, or seperate programming and often feel that you are not supporting tehm because you are not providing a seperate program that they have no input into for a teacher’s assistant to fill out.

Marcie W. Handler:

I would recommend collaborating with the general education teachers to identify where they are having the most challenges in supporting students with special needs. For inclusion to be successful, general education teachers typically need some background training on autism and ongoing assistance to implement new strategies. Start with something small that can be successful and require little effort for them to implement (e.g., providing the student with choices about what work to complete first, or modifying the assignments). When possible try to identify classroom-wide strategies that can benefit more than one individual (e.g., creating routines that help several students get organized, complete work, or access support).

Question from Anonymous:

How can I best promote self-regulation in a student with ‘mild’ Aspergers tendencies?

Stephen Shore:

It’s important to know where and when the students is experiences self-regulation challenges. Once those are determined the next step is to give the student awareness of his or her own sensory and emotional challenges by using visual strategies. Some of these strategies, such as emotional thermometers can be found in books such as the Hidden Curriculum by Brenda Myles and Understanding Autism for Dummies by me, Stephen Shore.

Question from Dr. Somyos Lorwatanapongsa, teacher, Redeemer International School Thailand:

How can mainstreamed teachers help parents/helpers to help ASD children at their homes? What are the do’s and don’ts.

Paula Kluth:

Great question! There are almost no “DON’Ts"-- it is always great to see enthusiasm for school-home partnerships. DO encourage parents to share “what works” at home. In turn, teachers should share “what works” at school. As I shared in another post, you may want to collaborate on the “strengths and strategies” profile from my website. DO videotape any strategies that seem to work at school and send them home for parents to see. Some kids on the spectrum get confused to see mom and dad hanging out at school and act differently than they would otherwise. Therefore, observation is sometimes difficult. Videotapes work well for this purpose. DO attend conferences and seminars as a team. Look for funding opportunities for both of you and, when possible, go to sessions on inclusion or autism as a group. DO pass on favorite resources-- books, local groups, etc.

Question from Gayle Gadison, M.Ed.,Curriculum Manager, Cleveland Metropolitan Schools and maother of an autistic son:

What is being offered to help teachers to work with typical students to be more tolerant of their peers with autism?

Marcie W. Handler:

It has become more common for local autism agencies and community-based organizations to offer “autism awareness” workshops for students and their teachers. Some larger school systems may have internal resources like psychologists or counselors (or parent groups) that can present information on the characteristics of autism, the challenges, and how to support your peers with autism. Evidence-based peer-mediated interventions are highly effective in promoting social skills and begin with education about understanding students with autism.

Question from Debra Lawrence,SPED TA/paraprofessional Nantucket Elementary:

How does a child affected with autism and bipolar fit into a general classroom when his/her behavior is very unpredictable?

Marcie W. Handler:

If it has not been done already, it may be helpful to conduct a functional behavioral assessment in order to better determine what does and does not contribute to the challenging behaviors. It helps to identify patterns even if it is not always predictable. Staff can then develop a better plan to modify those areas that seem to contribute more often to the behavior and attempt to make his/her time in the general ed classroom more predictable and reinforcing. It will be neccessary to develop strategies (teach using structured examples and practice when the student is not agitated) that the student can use to regulate emotions, and appropriately access escape or help if the general education class is “too much” for him/her to manage successfully that day.

Question from Martha Garner-Duhe, preK teacher, St. Charles Elementary, Iberia Parish, LA:

How much should one “pressure” a non-verbal child to speak? I don’t want the picture communication chart to become a prop that prevents progress, but am not sure how much or in what ways I should be trying to get the child to use words instead.

Paula Kluth:

Well, you probably won’t be able to pressure him to speak very much as we know now that difficulties in communication are not behavioral problems but complex issues related to movement and the body. To help a child use more speech, you might actually try using MORE augmentative and alternative communication, not less. I would infuse a wider range of options including something with voice output (there is some recent research that suggests that kids who hear that voice may try to mimic it and use more speech). Hearing what one types or chooses can be very helpful to the language learner. I would also incorporate gestures and, in general, a total communication approach. Make sure he also has lots of opportunities to work and learn around typical peers so he can be exposed to all of those communication models. Finally, give lots of opportunities for communication - not just choice making. Make sure he has many different opportunities to share in class, socialize with peers, and ask and answer curriculum-related questions.

Question from Weston Koyama, Student, Summit High School:

As a student I understand that autistic people need special help often including individualized attention. Many of the people in class although understanding of special needs students are frustrated by the extra help autistic students receive while unable to keep up with the curriculum themselves. How should a teacher assuage the frustration of struggling students as more of his or her time is spent helping special needs students?

Marcie W. Handler:

It’s great to hear the student perspective. One piece to keep in mind that every student (those with or without identified special) should have access to the supports he/she needs to be successful in working to their individual potential. When schools utilize effective school-wide positive behavior support (PBS) practices, they can create environments where ALL students can benefit from general academic and behavioral curriculums, some will need additional group-based supports (e.g., social skills groups, additional reading groups), and a few should need intensive academic and behavioral support. But I think there is a bigger question to address here given your concern. That is, if many students in a class are struggling to keep up, it suggests a need to assess the difficulty level of the tasks, and consider modifying the instruction, checking for student understanding, and creating more opportunities for students to access support from each other (e.g., cooperative learning groups). That way the teacher can be responsive to the needs of more students.

Question from Sonia Rodriguez, Student Teacher, CSUB:

I am currently in my first quarter as a student teacher, grade level 1. We have one student who is diagnosed with Asberger Syndrome. He seems to be easily distracted, constantly needing stimuli on the shoulder and proximity to stay on task,yet, will respond when not spoken to. My question is, when/how do we decide that keeping him mainstreamed may be a disservice to this child?

Stephen Shore:

Hi Sonia, The answer to the question of inclusion is whether a student is benefiting more from an inclusive rather than separate special education program. His need for stimuli to remain focused makes me wonder if this student has sensory issues that could be diagnosed and treated by a competent occupational therapist. Whenever possible I like to set up an educational environment supportive of people with diverse learning needs.

Question from Diane Bajor, art teacher, Middletown, NJ, school system:

I am an elementary art teacher who has been teaching since 1978. Presently, I have about 30 self-contained low functioning autistic students. The autistic population in our district continues to grow. Most have skills at pre-school level and below. I have no special education training, no special curriculum and no supervisor for help. I have been trying to find an outlet for help either in resources, networking or futher education, but with little success. As an art teacher, are there any programs or resources that I could participate in to further understand how to help these autistic children?

Marcie W. Handler:

This is quite a challenge when you are given little to no support, even with the best intentions! Great that you are willing to seek out additional support. Some local resources can be found (in every state) through Autism Speaks and locally The New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community offers workshops to professionals. I recommend beginning with a workshop that helps you understand more about the strengths and challenges working with students with autism. In the meantime, one of the most effective interventions is to provide lots of visual supports to help students (especially those who do not read) create predictable routines - e.g., to learn the schedule, where to find things in your room, what steps to follow to complete the activity, how to access help, etc. Perhaps you can connect with the special education teachers around this. It may be a great place for you to start (and something you would enjoy) given your art background!

Question from Chris Ryberg, classroom aide:

I work in the classroom with one child, with very little direction from the classroom teacher or specialists. I always wonder if I should be trying all the time to shape his behavior, or should I (merely!) attempt to assist him and soothe him in a very difficult environment--the classroom.

Paula Kluth:

This is a great question and one that is all too common. I really appreciate your concern for this child and his success. I am not sure exactly what kinds of behaviors you are seeing, but it would be best if you could get the special education teacher or case manager of the student to observe you working in the classroom and give you feedback and tips. You, as a classroom assistant, should not be coming up with curriculum, instruction, or behavior interventions. You should be taking direction from a certified teacher. Other specialists could also help - you could ask for observations from the OT or even the speech therapist. In turn, you could also watch them support the child in the general education classrom and get tips that way. For now, do your best to engage him in the activities- involve peers when you can and encourage at least partial participation. Infuse his interests into the lesson. I am also recommend that you look at one of the articles, Hanging In There, on my website. It provides tips for keeping kids comfortable in the classroom. It also provides suggestions for adapting the environment. Hope it is helpful.

Question from Cathy Riehle, Sped teacher, Kahakai Elem:

I have a high functioning Aspergers student who has focusing issues. What are tools I can use to promote an increase in on task behaviors.

Stephen Shore:

Sometimes a schedule denoting work and break times helps. Another powerful motivator is to find out what the students special interests are. Then teach what needs to be learned through those interests. For example, A child with a passion for airplanes could be taught math for figuring our time taken to travel distances, relate social studies to where airplanes fly, and a host of other subjects. Also, it’s important that the curriculum matches the child’s developmental level. Too high or too low will be boring and not relevant to a child with AS... or anyone else.

Question from Amy-Hays, KS:

Is it typical for a young child with Autism to have trouble sleeping?

Marcie W. Handler:

Yes, although not a core feature of the disorder itself, it is commom for many children with Autism to have trouble sleeping. Sometimes there are medical reasons for this that relate and other times it is the result of a pattern that develops once a child has initially been up and adults indirectly reinforce it (e.g., the child who wake up from having a cold or fever one night, has a bad dream, etc.) For each child, it may be something a little different that contributes to it.

Paula Kluth:

I find these sites helpful for art teachers-- maybe you will find them useful-- Dick Blick [Special Needs Section] Dick Blick sells adapted drawing and painting materials, as well as furniture that can be used in the art room. Art Education and Disability Resources on the Web Created by a doctoral candidate in art education, this site contains links to vendors, ideas for finding and using adaptive equipment, and information on how and why to adapt art activities for students with disabilities. Art Therapy and Autism Information about art therapy, links, and materials for further study.

Question from candi Special Education Teacher, Garden Grove Elem.:

I have minimal experience and knowledge of teaching academics to higher functioning autistic students. Any academic teaching strategies that could be shared would be appreciated.

Stephen Shore:

Here are some tips... 1. Be clear and consistent with directions and routines. 2. Provide visual supports such as a schedule of the day’s events on a bulletin board or a wall. 3. Find the students’ passions and work them into the curriculum 4. Make sure the environment is sensorially friendly. That means good (usually not fluorescent) lighting, ventilation, and is quiet. The other students, in addition to those with autism, will benefit.

Question from Linda Sampietro, 4th Grade Teacher, Thompson Elementary School:

If a teacher suspects a child might be autistic, but school medical records and/or parents do not indicate any such condition, what steps should be taken to find out such information without breaking any “rules and regulations”?

Marcie W. Handler:

Perhaps begin a dialogue with the parents about the general concerns you have - what behaviors or characteristics appear to be impacting the child’s success in school. Then determine if parents see similar concerns at home or in the community. Once you you have developed a relationship whereby they trust your opinion, then you will be in a better position to identify supports in your school system (e.g., the school psychologist) that can help the parents examine whether or not to move forward with an evaluation.

Question from Substitute Elementary Education Teacher:

As a substitute teacher, I have gone into Special Education classes with some or little knowledge about autism. Are there any web sites/books or classes you could recommend? I want to be the best that I can be to provide the appropriate instruction for all students.

Paula Kluth:

I applaud your interest in students on the spectrum. They are so often good teachers to those of us who want to improve our practice in the classroom. I have so many favorite books and sites-- I would start with Stephen Shore (another guest today)-- his website is I also highly recommend Stephen’s books- especially his autobiography which is Beyond the Wall. My own website has a lot of information for teachers as well- PaulaKluth.comOn it, you will find a lot of free articles on topics ranging from differentiating instruction to literacy and autism. I would also recommend ANY of the autobiographies on autism-they are so helpful and easy to read and enjoy. One favorite is Luke Jackson’s Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome. Another is Liane Holiday Willey’s PRETENDING TO BE NORMAL. A new book that everyone seems to love (and I do too) is Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson. Many of these authors also have great websites too so just google their names. I will recommend one more site too- it is called Inclusion: School as a Caring Community. This is a fantastic website filled with short essays written by general and special educators.

Question from Angela Johnson, teacher, Pillow Elementary:

*Could you please explain the use of “social stories” for autistic children? Are there books or websites that you can recommend? *What should a teacher whose school district refuses to test and or identify autism spectrum students for fear of costs and liability, tell parents? What kind of specialist can parents take children to for diagnosis? Should they begin with a pediatrician?

Paula Kluth:

To get accurate information on social stories, you should go right to the source. Carol Gray is the creator of the social stories method and you can read about them here. Social stories often work very well for students but they have to be used correctly-- that is, they are too often created, shared with a student, and put on a shelf until we need them! Instead, you should create the stories, share them regularly, teach the child to get them out when stressed or when he needs them. Some teachers are even creating auditory social stories and letting kids listen to them on the bus on their IPod. Carol is even teaching about video social stories now so check out her website to learn more.

Question from Dr. Margaret Desjardins, Professor of education at Edison State College, FLorida:

How can a classroom teacher prepare for the inclusion of a high functioning autistic child into their classrooms. ...or what steps can the classroom teacher take to allow for a smooth transition for all children?

Stephen Shore:

There are a number of things that can be done. 1. Increase awareness and sensitivity of the regular education students by studying well-known people with or suspected to have had autism or other disabilities. There are a number of historical and contemporary people to choose from. 2. Engage the class in a discussion about strong points and challenges they face. Persons with autism and other disabilities have strengths and challenges too... just to a much greater degree. 3. Make sure the room is sensorially friendly. Good lighting, ventilation, and low noise levels. 4. Clarity in giving directions and predictability of routines is also important. I have more tips listed in my third book, Understanding Autism for Dummies.

Question from Margie Crooks, teacher, Middle Point Middle School:

How is Asperger syndrome different from autism?

Marcie W. Handler:

With both, there are 1) impairments in social interaction skills and 2) repetitive and sterotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. With autism, there is also an impairment in communication skills (e.g., significant delay or lack of spoken language). And with Asperger’s there is no significant delay in cognitive development.

Question from kathy miller, special education teacher, New Milford:

Some of the students are very sensitive to noise but are extremely loud when they speak. Are there any strategies to help them adjust to normal classroom noise and also regulate their own voice level?

Paula Kluth:

Students can be loud for a variety of reasons-- it might be because they don’t hear their voice as you do or because they can’t modulate it very well. Sometimes when I ask a student to speak more softly, he begins to whisper-- this is common. It is as if they just cannot get the volume knob to turn the right amount! Some have tried audiotaping or videotaping the person to show them and let them hear themselves talking. For some kids, this seems to do the trick. You can also try give a visual cue to simple let them know they are speaking too loudly. It can be as discrete as a hand signal or a picture you point to. This may help students attempt to regulate their voice without others knowing they are being singled out. Finally, I would see if this seems to happen when it is very noisy. Some kids get overwhelmed with the noise and bring their volume up. So you can try bringing the noise down in the classroom too.

Question from Rita A. Sablan, Commissioner of Education, CNMI Public School System:

What type of support system can be provided to parents and families that have autistic children? What can the school system do to help parents cope with this disorder?

Marcie W. Handler:

Great question. Schools can do a lot. In many districts, they have been a resource to parents who develop support groups so that accurate information can be shared about what the school can do to support their children’s education and development. In some cases, they sponsor parent trainings groups to give parents general information about educational services (e.g., ABA, OT, how to facilitate inclusion) or about home supports (e.g., teaching parents basic ABA principles, developing behavioral support strategies at home and at school, fostering communication between home and school). In addition, many school systems are providing home-based therapy and/or behavioral consultation to families to prevent the need for more costly, intensive and restrictive placements.

Question from Cindy Lassalle, teacher, Episcopal School of Acadiana, Lower School (grades pr-K-5th):

What are the benefits and drawbacks of labeling a child with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Stephen Shore:

I think there are more benefits than drawbacks. In a practical sense a label provides a key to needed educational and other services. Additionally, by taking a strength-based approach in telling a child they have AS, it can lead to much greater understanding of their own situation. I have developed a four step method for doing this consisting of... 1. Discussion of the child’s characteristics with them. 2. Lining up strengths and challenges. A two column piece of paper can help. I also try to find at least one strength to accommodate for a challenge. For example, a child who is good with a computer can type his papers rather than writing by hand if penmanship is difficult and slow. Also... I don’t use “weakness” because that’s a static and negative word. 3. Comparison of his characteristics with others he knows. The point is to show different people have different characteristics and they aim to use their strengths to lead fulfilling and productive lives. 4. Bringing out the label is preceded byt talking about scientists and others studying peoples’ characteristics. And it just so happens that your set of characteristics is called “Asperger Syndrome” That way the label becomes a framework for understanding a person’s situation rather than something to be ashamed of.

Question from Ann Maher, Principal, West Canada Valley CSD, upstate New York:

What do you see as the key elements in providing appropriate educational programming for autistic spectrum disorder students?

Paula Kluth:

In short, I would say you would want to see these pieces: - sensory support and comfortable environment (appropriate seating, lighting, fidget toys if needed, breaks) - motivating and meaningful curriculum - appropriate instruction (movement, learning with peers, interests infused into activities) -- communication supports (augmentative communication if needed, lots of natural opportunities to share and learn from peers) -- social supports (facilitated friendships if needed, help with navigating the social world) -- welcoming school culture (bully free environment, teachers willing to learn about/from the student)

Question from James Mullen, Music Instructor, Calvary Christian Academy:

Are there some good strategies and/or music materials to use in reaching autistic children?

Stephen Shore:

Yes there are. In essence I develop routines involving manipulation of the elements of music. Depending on the needs of the child it may be as simple as picking up letters and dropping them into a box or giving them to another person. Other students may get involved with writing the letter note names on little yellow stickies and pasting them on a piano keyboard. At some point the child realizes that what they are doing is playing songs they know and music becomes interesting on its own right. At this time there is no specific music curriculum for children with autism. More information about music and autism can be found on my website and in my first book Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome.

Question from Beth Frymire, Teacher, Shoreline Schools:

I would like some suggestions for helping build social skills between those with ASD and those in regular ed. Thanks.

Paula Kluth:

I would never say that buddy programs and any peer-support program can’t be helpful because many do work well, but I have found that many kids on the spectrum do well when we build social experiences around their areas of passion and interest. So, either getting kids together in clubs (Yearbook) or creating clubs for kids (Weather Watchers Club). In addition, look for curriculum that helps kids give and get support-- games, cooperative learning, collaborative learning structures are all good options for this. Book clubs with selections related to social issues and challenges can be great tools too. For young kids, I love the book, Because We Can Change the World by Mara Sapon Shevin-- lots of great activities Jed Baker’s work is very good too and check out this site for some quick and easy tips: Teaching Resources from the Desk of Laura Candler

Question from Alejandra G. Rodriguez, Fine Arts Teacher at V. M. Trevino School of Communications & Fine Arts:

How are we to meet the needs of our students if no training has been provided? Wjy can’t administrators introduce training through their Staff Developments sessions? Autism is not the only disorders that is needing training but ADHD/ADD is also very important.

Marcie W. Handler:

Absolutely! The needs of the children we educate are diverse and teachers need ongoing professional development to adapt instruction to these varying needs. Schools either need to invest in prevention (by providing training to teachers and additional supports to carry out these practices) or they will have to respond in different ways later on that require more resources and time(e.g., with students failing, behavioral problems in the classroom, drop out, higher special education supports, or more students requiring more intensive supports).

Question from Cindy Songer, mother of ASD son:

My son is 7 years old and is making great progess in school and at home. Are there any programs anywhere that would help him learn to handle his frustration better. He is speaking and communicating on a 5-6 year old level, but he still can get frustrate and will have trouble expressing himself.

Stephen Shore:

Yes... There are a number ways to help. One is to use “emotional thermometers” to help him visually gauge his frustration levels and determine what to do about it. If he’s having meltdowns then you may want to look into the “Rage Cycle” as discussed by Brenda Myles in the books Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments, and in my Understanding Autism for Dummies. There are ideas in a book titled The Hidden Curriculum by Brenda Myles as well.

Question from Kim O’Byrne, Inclusion Teacher, Mayfield High School:

At what age do autistic symptoms start to manifest? If you suspect a child is autistic where do you go from there?

Marcie W. Handler:

Believe it or not, there are children getting diagnosted as young as 18 months or 2 years old. But it is not always easy to do and requires skilled professionals. Typically, parents indicate that some of the symptoms can be identified when the children are babies and they fail to respond to adults or explore their environment in a typical way. If you susepct it, parents typically begin with a discussion with their pediatrician (the American Academy of Pediatrics has guildeines for prediatricians to screen children early on for the signs of autism). Then should be seen by a specialist in autism or team of clinicians from there.

Question from KayDee Caywood, Ph.D., Professor, National University, Los Angeles, California:

I am interested in strategies for inclusion with students that are low level functioning and that have autism.

Paula Kluth:

Look at each segment of time during the day and look at each activity in this way -- What are other kids doing and which piece of this can XXX do? How can we meet his goals using these materials and this activity? For instance, during SSR, your student perhaps cannot hold a book, but can he listen as a peer reads, read an apdated POWERPOINT book, listen to an audiobook, or work on a related software program? During a science lab, can the student have a related role if he cannot manipulate the materials easily? Can he photograph the steps of the lab? Can he check off the completed steps? Can you focus on one part of the curriculum for him to learn such as “What is a living thing?” Integrate IEP goals such as using a communication board- for this activity, a board or device might contain utterances like “What is the next step?” or “Wow that was cool” or “Who wants to do the calculation?” Other ideas for kids with more significant disabilities-- have them: - distribute or collect materials - direct the activity with communication device (or at least practice doing this) - take photos or video of an activity - draw questions from a jar for the teacher or kids to answer - hold up visuals or create visuals for lesson

Question from Fabrizia Baso, student at Cà Foscari University:

I’m a student of University Cà Foscari in Venice, who is writing a degree thesis about Asperger Syndrome. The title of my degree thesis is the following: Children with Asperger’s Syndrome in primary school: difficulties with foreign language learning. I’m asking you some help because I’d like to have information about the acquisition of a foreign language in children with Asperger Syndrome. Can they learn a foreing language? Which are their problems in learning a foreign language? and How can we help them? Thank you for help, Regards!Fabrizia Baso

Stephen Shore:

I wish I could answer your question in an academic sense. However, all I have is personal experience. I tend to learn foreign languages easily is long as things remain in the spoken mode. Writing is more difficult. Good luck on your thesis. You are covering important ground in which as far as I know, there is not much there.

Question from Rocio Galarza:

How can the use of technology help autistic children learn basic skills?

Stephen Shore:

There’s a lot here. Many, if not most people on the autism spectrum are attracted to technology. The computer can be great for being a patient and consistent teacher in learning skills in communication and other others Much success has been found in using video for modeling skills such as the many activities of daily living - brushing teeth, putting on clothes, etc.

Question from Joanne Vale: Field Supervisor for student teachers at Manhattanville College:

What is the most important thing I should emphasize to new teachers as they enter the field regarding how best to approach working with students “on the spectrum” who are placed in their classrooms.

Paula Kluth:

I love this question-- I actually just did a little video vignette for Autism Speaks and answered this exact question so if you google my name (Paula Kluth) and “U Tube” or go to the AS website you can see me chatting about it. In short, I said that I think teachers need to realize that if you know ONE child with autism, you know ONE child with autism! Every kid will bring different skills, interests, passsions, fascinations, struggles, and quirks to your classroom so try to know the kid before you get caught up in knowing everything about autism. Also, I like to suggest to new teachers that they try to learn from the student and be generous and open in interpreting behaviors and tendences-- instead of thinking, “He does that to escape classwork!”, ask, “I wonder why he does that? Is it helpful? Is he avoiding something or getting something from doing it? Is he uncomfortable? Does he undestand what to do?” etc. Talk a lot to the family and if possible, to the student!

Question from Joy Marcantel, mom, Wallburg Elementary:

My son is ASD. He will be transitioning from elementary to middle school next year. Can you give any helpful hints to make this a smooth transition? Thank You

Stephen Shore:

Yes... Focus on the transition by... 1. talking about and showing pictures of the middle school. 2. visiting the middle school, first when it is empty and then later when there are students. 3. consider having him spend some time in a class while is it in session at the middle school. This will be a good start.

Question from Cynthia Rucker, teacher, Maysville High School:

How can I help my soph ASD student develop better peer relationships? (such as having someone to eat lunch with)?

Marcie W. Handler:

First, be sure he/she has all the prerequisite skills to make peer interactions successful. E.g., this may include knowing how to order lunch, eating lunch neatly, how to begin a conversation, how to maintain a conversation, picking topics that are age appropriate and interesting to other students. You may want help developing social stories (“scripts”) for these situations that can be taught to him/her. Work with the school to identify a peer that is familiar to your child and friendly. Adults will likely then need to facilitate some of the initial interactions either in school or outside of school until your child obtains reinforcement from having these relationships. Teach the skills, prompt their use, then reinforce the skill.

Question from John Wu, Parent, Boston Public School System:

We have a son who has been diagnosed with Aspergers. We are trying to get him placement into a very small program for kids in an inclusion setting for BPS the problem is that it is a small school with limited seats. My question is what is the best approach and strategy for getting him into the school he needs?

Stephen Shore:

The most important thing is to make sure that school is a good fit for him. Beyond that it may be difficult to jump in line ahead of other people who are waiting. While you are waiting for a slot, it might be possible to observe what positive things are happening there to bring home or suggest be done in the school he is presently in.

Question from Kim O’Byrne, Inclusion teacher, Mayfield High School:

There seems to be many variations, or levels to Autism. How do you address these in a full inclusion class? Obviously there isn’t one method, are there some strategies that have worked overall?

Paula Kluth:

Kim- YOu are right about all of the ways we see autism. In fact, I always say, “If you know one child with autism, you know ONE child with autism” This is being pretty general, but here are some strategies I use no matter the “place” on the spectrum: - use plenty of visuals (illustrations, visual cues, writing) - provide lots of active learning opportunities, breaks, and movement -- infuse passions and fascinations (see for more info -- provide a schedule and lots of previews -- make sure the rooms are comfortable (check seating/lighting/visuals) -- provide lots of opportunities for kids to communicate/share -- start from what kids CAN do and then, as they get more comfortable, increase demands

Question from amy betts, advocate, consultant, slp:

I have found that school districts are very resistant to inclusive practices that require flexibility - especially children who have “high level” autism. One student had reading comp in the fourth grade range but was only going into kindergarten. I suggested that the SD place her in a regular kindergarten class (with support) for part of the day and resource or regular class for reading (starting her at the first grade level miniminally. Thanks

Marcie W. Handler:

Yes! It can be very challenging for everyone to appreicate the individual needs of each student. It requires a constant dialogue with parents and school systems to develop the right supports... for all students. We work very hard to facilitate this process as well. For more information about autism support or PBS services through the May Institute, please visit or

Question from Portia Randolph HS teacher:

Any suggestions on how to motivate students that sit and smile at you, have a great attitude, but do not display any comprehension skills?

Paula Kluth:

Quick answer since we are at the end-- Again, I’ll direct you to my website (sorry to keep doing that but easier than rewriting it all!)-- for an article on comprehension and kids with autism-- First of all, the child may know the answer but not be able to express it so try letting him show you physically (act it out) or show you w/ pictures. Also, slow it down as you read. Stop and have him take picture notes a few times during the story, for instance. And be sure to set a purpose before you read-- in other words, tell him what you are reading to learn (In this story, we are going to find out what Ben caught when he went fishing)

Question from Diane Scully Occupational Therapist:

What is the cause of a new behavior that our 4 year old high functioning preschool student has recently acquired. He floats his hand past his eyes. What are your suggestions to extinguish, Mother is very concerned and can be a barrier to his paricipation.

Stephen Shore:

What is important is to find the Function behind this Behavior through a good Functional Behavior Assessment to find the cause. If it is recently acquired then there may have been a recent change in his environment or routines causing a higher level of self-stimulatory behavior. Stim behaviors demonstrate a need to self-regulate. Rather than extinguishing the stim it may be more helpful to think of redirecting the behavior instead.

Question from Susan Autry, Academic Supervisor, Oakwood School :

I see teachers in my school working to gain and hold a student’s attention. Do we need to change our definition of what “attention” means for Asperger’s students? Sometimes a student does not appear to be “attending” but can answer questions about the lesson. What should we expect from students?

Stephen Shore:

People on the autism spectrum “attend” in different ways as you described. It may be that attempting to look at a teacher may be too sensorially overloading and preventing work from being done. My sense is that a student demonstrating that the material has been learned and is not disruptive has gained a grasp of the material -- even if they aren’t looking at the teacher during the time of instruction.

Question from Vivian Watts, teacher, King WIlliam High School:

How can parents help stimulate children with autism? No matter how much work is done at school, the child is at home every evening and weekend and continues to need training.

Marcie W. Handler:

It is a round the clock job! There needs to be communication with parents about the skills being worked on at school and parents should share what they work on at home. Generalization across school and home needs to specifically be fostered - it does not tend to happen as quickly or naturally as may be the case when working with typically developing children.

Elizabeth Rich (Moderator):

I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to all of the questions we received and we had so many good ones from educators and parents. I’d like to thank our guests, Marcie Handler, Paula Kluth, and Stephen Shore. The transcript of this chat will be posted shortly on

The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.’s Online Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We do not correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone. Please read our privacy policy and user agreement if you have questions.

---Chat Editors

Related Tags: