At this time, despite the controversy surrounding the redefinition of Asperger’s in the new DSM 5—and you should be paying attention to that in your local newspapers—primary schools seem to be more accommodating to Aspies. The issue becomes more difficult as you get into secondary schools. I’ll talk about higher education in a bit.
I recommend that parents get their child tested not just for Asperger’s, but to see what else is going on. Quite often children may also have ADHD or ADD. They may also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or related behaviors. They may have learning disabilities. They may have dyslexia and/or auditory or visual processing difficulties. They may be developmentally delayed. In order to proceed, we need to know all of what is going on and if medication or other treatment forms are needed.
In addition, Aspies, just as other children, experience emotional issues. If your family is experiencing stress, so, too, will your child. If you and your partner are going through a split or divorce or transition, your child will feel anxious and/or depressed. S/he may start to present physical symptoms.
You need to tell your child’s therapist all of what is going on. Then you and the therapist should proceed to request an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from the school. Make sure that the request is written and keep track of all that paper. If you are unable to pay for the testing above, ask the school district and/or the County Office of Education to do the testing. But don’t wait for all of it to be done, because you want to proceed with what you know about your child with Asperger’s. You can add to the IEP as you go along.
If your child is diagnosed before s/he goes to primary school, your pediatrician and the local Regional Center or its equivalent can help you with this process. They can also help if your child is diagnosed later. Always get trustworthy help and use it as much as you can.
You should consider interviewing each teacher to find out what experience s/he has with children with Asperger’s and any of the other issues your child has. You should also find out how that teacher sets an atmosphere, not of tolerance, but welcome in her or his classroom. Go to the school and get a feel for the classes before you choose.
You should consider asking for an aide for your child to help her or him with work and transitions. If your child needs a quieter space to do certain kinds of activities, request that. Your child may need some special help as s/he interacts with other children. Request that the teacher, aide, another parent, or you, if you’re able to volunteer in the class, to do that. Unstructured play activities and lunch may present special challenges for your Aspie child. Get a sense of the schedule and ways to help integrate her or him into them. As I mentioned earlier, transitions may prove hard. Repeated alerts about when change is going to occur are helpful. They may be like—“in fifteen minutes, we will do this”.
Make sure your child has a person s/he can talk to if s/he feels it necessary. It may be the teacher, the aide, an adult in the class, or the school site counselor—or even the school secretary. If your child has ADHD or ADD, s/he may forget her/his homework, assignments, books, and so on. K-2 teachers are sensitive to this since that is often typical of these grades as well. You must ensure that as your child gets into higher grades, the teacher of those classes provides the same kinds of help.
Social challenges start to loom larger as your child gets older in primary school. You should help her or him by some of the same practices above and by reviewing her or his day after school. Use a face chart to have your child tell you what s/he is feeling and what other children are expressing. Do some “do-overs” with your child to give her/him some alternative ways of acting. Have your child draw feelings and situations. Bring all of this into therapy with your child’s counselor. Have your child’s counselor keep in regular touch with her or his teacher and school site counselor.
And, to repeat, always tell all the appropriate adults involved what’s happening at home. Aspie kids, like others, are very smart and sensitive. One of my clients, a 7 year old boy, drew a picture for me of him peering around a door, listening to his parents fight.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how your child can be helped to work in many subjects at school and how s/he can enhance their social interactions.