Assisting Children with Social Difficulties
Tips for Teachers and Parents
positive reinforcement of all children in the class provides a positive and rewarding environment.
Ensure that you have all the class's attention before giving instructions: "I want you to stop what you are doing and listen. I need to see you all looking at me so that I know I have your attention."
Give specific instructions: "If someone talks to you, stop what you are doing, look the person in the face, and listen to what he is saying. Reply when he has finished what he is saying". Keep instructions as brief as possible and be prepared to repeat them. Remind the child of what you expect and be consistent.
Observe the child carefully to identify his/her talents and interests. Show these to the rest of the class and ask the child to talk to the class about their interest. Publicly praising a child raises their status within the class.
Focus on strengths and talents, NOT weaknesses, to develop a positive self-image. Arrange tasks to ensure success. E.g. Break more complex tasks that you know the child will have difficulty with into smaller more manageable steps and give positive reinforcement for each step successfully completed. This is less overwhelming for children with organisational and planning difficulties. Positive reinforcement also reduces disruptive and aggressive behaviour.
Give warnings of when the lesson is to end. E.g. "15 minutes left."
Close supervision helps to keep the child on track and minimizes escalation of difficulties into 'failure'.
If the child answers a question incorrectly, instead of saying "no" and moving on to the next child, explain to the class why the child's answer may have seemed feasible, or why it may have been a common mistake. This will help to protect the child from taunts and peer put-downs.
Consider discussing and exploring Asperger's Syndrome (AS) as a class project, with the child's and parents' permission.
When pairing children for tasks, pair off less socially able and skilled students with more socially able and skilled students, to assist the development of communication and social skills. Avoid asking children to pick their own teams or groups to ensure a well-balanced mix of abilities in each team or group. Avoid grouping children with poor behaviour to reduce the chances of children identifying with such behaviour.
Provide opportunities for children to bond with more socially able children.
Give the child responsibilities, in order to provide the child with a role to play while interacting with peers.
Provide opportunities for interaction and communication practice by asking the child to take messages to other teachers or to administration staff.
Boost social confidence, monitor social inclusion, and offer guidance when the child is unsure of what to do in specific social circumstances. Compliment the child for correct social behaviour, such as appropriate caring, sharing, taking advice, and cooperation, particularly when in group situations. Positive reinforcement is recommended. For example, "I noticed when... Thank you. That's what a good friend would do", "I noticed that... (appropriate response). Thank you. That's what a good team member would do".
Solitude is the most effective emotional restorer for children with AS. Space in the computer room or other suitable area where the child can have access to a computer during lunch breaks is desirable. This will enable the child to emotionally recover from the “hard work” of school-based social interaction, is constructive and educational, and will develop skills in an area (information technology), which is often successfully pursued as an employment pathway by people with AS. The child should, however, be supported if, and when, he/she does at times, choose to interact with peers during lunch time. Social interaction should, however, be kept short and successful.
Model respect for the child and ensure students show respect for each other. A proactive anti-bullying policy is a must.
Never make jokes at the expense of a child.
Encourage children to ask for help when needed. Mistakes are best treated as an opportunity for discovery. E.g. "You didn't know what to say (do). Let's find out", or "I can understand why you did that. Was there another way?" This approach will help to nurture and maintain the child's self-esteem.
If handwriting is a problem, encourage the child to use a computer or lap-top to reduce frustration and stress.
Central auditory processing difficulties make it difficult to focus on what the teacher is saying in a noisy classroom, as the teacher's words will merge into the background noise making it difficult for the child to "hear" instructions or know what to do. The best learning environment for AS children is one which is calm, quiet and structured.
Many children with Asperger's Syndrome are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, such as visual stimuli, smell, touch, taste and sound. This often leads to these children becoming overwhelmed by sensory information in everyday home and school environments. To reduce stress from environmental overload it is recommended that the child be encouraged to close his/her eyes and breathe deeply to reduce environmental input. Sensitivity to environmental stimuli has been found to diminish with maturation.
Children with AS have difficulty with mental flexibility, and find it difficult to change an approach to a problem if that approach doesn't work. Encourage the child to explore new ways of doing things. Difficulties and mistakes are best acknowledged and framed as a positive E.g. "I'm glad you're finding it difficult, as we learn more from our difficulties than from our successes." Seeking help also needs to be reinforced. E.g. "That's a smart thing, to ask for help."
Focus on calming the child down, NOT on the problem. Remind the child, "It's smart to stay calm. You'll solve the problem quicker and better if you stay smart".
Remain calm yourself.
Encourage the child to do something physical or dramatic to release built up energy. Alternatively, encourage the child to close his/her eyes, breathe deeply and think of something that he/she really enjoys or is good at.
Reinforce, "The smart thing to do is to work together".
If you would like to discuss concerns about assisting your child with social difficulties with a Psychologist, please phone Regional & Rural Mental Health Services on (07) 4637 9989, or contact us via our Contact Form to arrange an appointment to see a member of our team.