This post is in the Educators category

"Tournament" from Zen Zen Zo SubCon Warrior 2.0 © Morgan Roberts 2009

"Tournament" from Zen Zen Zo SubCon Warrior 2.0 © Morgan Roberts 2009

If a student has declared ASD to the college or university administration, teachers may be required to adapt teaching and assessment practices in consultation with student support services. However employing some of the concepts detailed in current techniques of general teaching and ASD specific ideas such as those described by Breaky (2006) may benefit the whole class. On the basis of exploration and research reported in the Insights section, these are some of the key issues I have found important in dealing with learners with ASD. Few of these points are new to trained teachers and it is worth noting at this point that nearly every teaching strategy in every book I have seen that is aimed at ASD students in primary and higher levels of education is also a good strategy for other learners. I have included this page as many teachers in higher education are not trained in teaching techniques to the same degree as primary and secondary teachers, and it offers some very basic pointers towards using the students strengths and building up weaknesses.

Reference to the Traits, Diagnosis and Criteria pages for the more clinical descriptions, may assist the teacher in identifying traits in students, but I have revisited some of them here. It is worth remembering that traits tend to cluster, so if you see some, either positive or negative in manifestation, there may be others that become apparent on further observation.  Some of the traits below may also be a sign of ADHD or other learning difficulties. Please note:  This will not make you an expert or a diagnostician or a counsellor or a psychologist. Neither am I, and trying to assume the role is a potentially risky proposition.

  • Many people with autism crave control. This is an aspect of Executive Function and indicates difficulty with change and transitions.  Changes to routine, working groups, timetables and teachers can strongly impact the student’s stress levels.
  • My own difficulties with intuitive empathy may be the reason I struggled with ensemble and solo performance as a trombonist at college and help account for my fascination with technology, composition and the recording arts.  At the time I recall the switch was prompted by the control that the studio environment gave me over nuance, sound and even spacialisaton, as opposed to the “risky” nature of performance, where things change and need to be adapted to instantly. So called “performance anxiety” in a student with ASD may be a very intense experience, but not be recognised or verbalised as such.
  • A student who demonstrates the ability to concentrate for an houron perfecting the exact “groove” of a programmed drum loop may also become captured by the sound of the air-conditioning and miss that crucial exam-worthy concept that was given verbally in class, but not written on the white-board.  The student may be able to repeat it to you, but not understand or remember it.  It has been “received” along with the other auditory stimuli, but not “processed”.  Using two simultaneous delivery modes, eg. Speaking and writing key concepts, can help this.  Asking students to re-phrase concepts also reinforces concepts. Sensory distractions can include noises outside a nearby window, flashing lights (occasionally fluorescent lighting) or direct sunlight (glare or heat).
  • A student who is highly articulate either verbally or in written work may be very direct and honest to point of tactlessness and apparent arrogance.  The same student may also struggle with changes of dynamic and expression in a chamber ensemble.  He may be a great soloist but a very poor accompanist, as he cannot intuitively empathise with the people around him and needs “brain time” to observe, analyse and respond.
  • Students with ASD often struggle with socialising and have few friends.  They may tend to interrupt or  exhibit a lack of abilty to self-censor social appropriate comments and observations. They may also be completely unaware that the rest of the class wishes they would keep quiet.  Such students may also show a tendency to “always be right” and have little tolerance for those who are less intelligent can be evident, especially in group work.  This can manifest as “taking over” a group and can impact on the learning of others.
  • ASD students often have very poor handwriting, and may require use of a laptop computer for exams.
  • Eye contact is likely to be poor or seem overly intense. Criteria for some kinds of assessment such as presentations may need to modified to allow for this. Eye contactfor many people with ASD can be very uncomfortable. Some can watch eyes and faces when they are speaking, but not when listening, or vice versa.  In either case, body language is easily missed, along with sarcasm, irony and metaphor. Encourage all students to develop succinct speech, such as answering questions in twenty words or less.  This reduces the use of metaphor and vaguely expressed concepts in the classroom.  It is also good practice for exams.
  • Absolute or perfect pitch is fairly common.
  • Teachers with ASD students need to aware of their own Theory of Mind to be able to engage with ASD learning styles. Where most students will have intuitive grasp of concepts, the ASD student may not, and the teacher will have to use non-intuitive routes, logical modes of explanation and information sharing.  This may include areas where empathy and intuition are commonly engaged, such as expression in musical performance.
  • I find in teaching analysis of recordings that I will ask students to split their subjective and objective responses, describing what they hear in terms of frequency, distance, dynamic, shape, and then in more emotive terms.

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