Music & Students with Special Needs (Special Learners in Music) Special Learners in Music
Bartlett - Established 1884 in New York City

Asperger's Syndrome (AS)

Outline for Success

Common difficulties

  • Perseveration on specific topics of interest
  • Insistence on sameness/difficulty with changes in routine
  • Inability to make friends
  • Difficulty with reciprocal conversations
  • Pedantic speech
  • Socially naïve and literal thinkers
  • Tend to be reclusive
  • Difficulty with learning in large groups
  • Difficulties with abstract concepts
  • Problem-solving abilities tend to be poor
  • Vocabulary usually great; comprehension poor
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Poor coping strategies
  • Restricted range of interests
  • Poor writing skills (fine-motor problems)
  • Poor concentration
  • Academic difficulties
  • Emotional vulnerability
  • Poor organization skills
  • Appear “normal” to other people
  • Motor clumsiness

Inappropriate behaviors are often a function of poor coping strategies, low frustration tolerance, and difficulty reading social cues. Most teaching strategies that are effective for students with autism also work for students with AS. Intervention methods, however, must be more subtle because students with AS are more aware of their disability.

(Taken from – Inclusive programming for elementary students with autism – by Sheila Wagner)             

Other characteristics as noted by researchers and teachers

  • Lack of empathy
  • Naïve, inappropriate, one-sided interaction
  • Little or no ability to form friendships
  • Pedantic, repetitive speech
  • Poor non-verbal communication
  • Intense absorption in certain subjects
  • Clumsy and ill-coordinated movements and odd postures

Lorna Wing (Burgoin and Wing 1983)

  • Inability to interact with peers
  • Lack of desire to interact with peers
  • Lack of appreciation of social cues
  • Socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior
  • Has impairments in at least one:
    • Limited use of gestures
    • Clumsy/gauche body language
    • Limited facial expression
    • Inappropriate expression
    • Peculiar, stiff gaze

Carina and Christopher Gillberg (1989)

Students with Aspergers

These students develop normally (or ahead of schedule) and are often not identified until preschool or elementary school. It is much more common in boys than girls. It is also more difficult to diagnose in girls. Some girls may be diagnosed as having a non-verbal learning disorder when they, in fact, have Aspergers Syndrome. Some boys may be diagnosed as having Aspergers Syndrome when they, in face, have a non-verbal learning disorder. There is a genetic component to Autism and AS.

  • Perseveration or Special interest (sensory integration and information processing)
  • Lack of eye contact and gaze avoidance (sensory overload)
  • Stereotypes (repetitive movements – “stims”)
  • Stiff conversational style (may be another manifestation of inability to pick up and model social and speech cues)
  • Unaware of unwritten rules of social conduct
  • Motor clumsiness (gross and fine motor, tics and involuntary movement, odd postures)
  • Rigid enforcement of class rules
  • Emotional inability and general anxiety (easily upset and confused by things that are apparent to others) – constant “low-level” background stress during waking hours
  • High co-morbidity with central auditory processing disorder
  • High sensitivity to noise and sound – will cry, scream, run, completely shut down, or go to sleep (things that may not bother or even be noticed by others).
  • Problems with executive function and organization (ability to control inhibitions, organize assignments or homework before beginning, think before acting – and to apply a behavior from one situation to another).

Tony Attwood - 1998

Techniques to improve social behavior

Social Stories

Descriptive – objectively define where a situation occurs, who is involved, what they are doing and why

Perspective – Describe and explain, if necessary, the reactions and feelings of others in a given situation

Directive – State what the child is expected to do or say

Control – Develop strategies to help the person remember what to do or how to understand the situation. These are often suggested and written by the child themselves and can incorporate their special interest.

A balance of the above sentences will be of most use. They should be written in first person and present tense.

Specific skill training

  • Use other children as cues to indicate what to do
  • Encourage cooperative games
  • Model how to relate to the student
  • Explain alternative means of seeking help
  • Encourage prospective friendships
  • Provide supervision at break times in the playground
  • Be aware of two characters (Jekyll and Hyde)
  • Teacher aide time
  • Students with Aspergers Syndrome often need explanations as to how and why their behavior was not appropriate.
  • They need guidance as to
    • Body language (with translations of each posture)
    • What to say and do in a variety of difficult situations (when teased, bullied, or how to ask someone to join in an activity)
  • Video cameras can be very useful as the student can view their performance.

Book Therapy

Provide and write stories about students and adults who have difficulty in social situations. Biographies of famous scientists and artists can be helpful (Mozart – Einstein).

Techniques to improve language

  • Encourage and model
  • Appropriate questions and language usage through social acting and speech and drama exercises
  • Precise speech that eliminates vague language that can be misinterpreted
  • Language that modifies speech to include associated emotions
  • The ability to use your “inside your head” voice until you are sure what is going to be said will be well-received
  • The ability to ask for repetition and rephrasing of questions and directions when they confusing to the student.
  • Pauses between directions and questions to allow processing time.
  • Metaphors and figures of speech (in a direct teaching environment rather than in casual conversation or inferential teaching environment)

Techniques to use to provide a healthy emotional environment

  • Don’t believe that tantrums and rages “come out of nowhere”
  • Don’t assume that there is “nothing” you can do
  • Don’t ignore the warning signs or the conditions that you know may prompt an outburst.
  • Don’t respond to the behavior; respond to the child
  • Don’t use too many words
  • Don’t say what you don’t mean or fail to do what you say
  • Don’t expect the student to handle situations you know are beyond him/her without support and an escape plan.
  • Don’t expect your child to read, understand, or respond appropriately to your body language or facial expression.
  • Don’t ask rhetorical questions
  • Don’t make generalizations
  • Don’t use sarcasm, hyperbole, or gentle teasing to make your point
  • Don’t use ultimatums or say you will do something that you cannot or will not follow through on immediately.
  • Focus only on the present moment and the issue at hand
  • Don’t teach, preach, or explain until the student is safely out of crisis
  • Don’t outnumber and overwhelm the student
  • Don’t let your words or actions have any point or goal beyond helping the student regain her emotional equilibrium without feeling guilty, “bad,” or in any way diminished in your eyes or his own.

Techniques for “setting students up” for success

  • Create situations that show off his/her strengths rather than those that expose weakness
  • Understand and respect the student’s social limitations
  • Go out of your way to create a social setting in the classroom
  • Accept the friendship of the student on his/her own terms
  • The “play’s” the thing – in more ways than one (social practice and play)
  • Acknowledge and reward every attempt at social sufficiency – even if it results in “failure”

Special interests and routines

Can be very useful to a student and his teachers when used correctly. These interests can be used to help improve social interactions, personal soothing strategies, and improve overall satisfaction with school, home, and self.

Cognition and Aspergers Syndrome

  • Theory of Mind
  • Learning perspectives and thoughts of others– thinking about the feelings of someone else before speaking or acting
  • Memory
  • Use games to globalize ability to recall facts
  • Flexibility in Thinking
  • How to think differently about subjects and how to ask for help (secret signal)
  • Visual thinking
  • Use of pictures and diagrams to process information

Sensory sensitivity

  • Auditory
    • Avoid sounds that are intense
    • Music can ameliorate sound issues
    • Auditory integration training can be of benefit
    • Minimize background noise
    • Ear plugs can be useful
  • Tactile
    • Buy duplicates of some clothing items
    • Sensory integration therapy
    • Desensitization (massage/vibration)
  • Food (taste and texture)
    • New foods when relaxed and happy (or distracted)
  • Visual
    • Avoid intense lighting
    • Use sun visors and sunglasses
  • Pain
    • Encourage reports of pain
    • Minor discomfort may actually equal great pain

Other general teaching strategies for student with AS

  • Allow a great deal of wait-time for processing questions and directions – do not rephrase the question or interrupt the thinking process as the student will then have to begin again in processing.
  • Be very specific when speaking to a student with Aspergers Syndrome. Use very specific nouns and verbs. Avoid generalities.
  • Keep a very structured and similar classroom routine and post the daily schedule and rules for students with Aspergers Syndrome.
  • Give instructions and information regarding transitions specifically and with enough time for processing and closing out of the current activity. Prior notification for any change in routine is extremely important.
  • PEER BUDDY – Very Important!
Copyright 2005 Project Seven Development