It's common for a child with Asperger syndrome or autism to be challenged in school, even if (s)he has an average or greater IQ and is capable of grade-level work and higher. This is because current teaching methods cater to neurotypical people, social problems can cause stress, and teachers do not always understand how to meet autistic students' needs.
Academic skills are one area in which autistic people are very diverse. Some excel, some are around average, and some struggle very much. Due to various aspects of their disabilities, they may need to put in a lot of effort in order to succeed.
Some people with Asperger's have a concrete, literal thinking style. This can aid their performance in STEM fields, which require logical thinking and understanding systems. On the flipside, that can make it difficult to understand class assignments that require more imaginative, flexible thinking, especially when the instructions are vague. They may also have difficulties with synthesizing smaller pieces into a larger whole, and organizing their time.
Many autistic children exceed their peers in academics, usually averaging in the Honor Roll or All A's One B region. Others might be highly specialized, excelling in one or two areas and getting ordinary or below ordinary grades in the rest. Some autistic children do not do well in school at all.
Autistic people sometimes have difficulty processing the written word and handling executive function, which could inhibit school performance. They may not hear what the homework assignment is, or forget their materials at school/home. They may need a lot of help from parents/caregivers in organizing their materials.
In many cases, bullies like to pick on or annoy an autistic child, because autistic children oftentimes struggle to ignore distractions from their peers. Things such as tapping, beatboxing, singing, and even downright mocking are used to annoy an autistic child. Bullies may not understand or care that the autistic child finds this behavior severely distracting or even physically painful. Repeated bullying can lead to a meltdown, which may involve panicked screaming, "telling off" the bullies, or even lashing out if the autistic child feels threatened.
Educators may not always be helpful. They may believe the bullies' story over the autistic child's account, or recognize that bullying happens but refuse to act upon it. This can be a struggle for the parent, who is left searching for a way to protect the child, and the child, who may not learn to trust adults (because adults don't help them when they're hurting).
Disability-related slurs such as 'sp*z' or 'ret**d' may be used against them, especially if they are compulsive or have a speech impediment.
Some autistic children never experience bullying. Other students may appreciate their kind and earnest natures, leading them to be generally well-liked. Many autistic children are by nature sweet and eager to be helpful.
Effects of Bullying
Sometimes autistic teenagers self-isolate due to bullying, cutting off social ties and retreating into their own thoughts or exclusively online communities. While some autistic people can feel perfectly happy without friends, others may feel lonely or even depressed. Autistic teenagers may greatly benefit from friendships with other autistic teens or adults.
Autistic people have a keen sense of justice and may rebel against social hierarchies. Because of this, they may befriend 'punks' or 'goths' or other socially maligned characters. Autistic people are less likely to follow punk or goth stereotypes because they tend not to place great importance upon subcultures.
Autistic children may dress differently from their peers. They may wear comfortable clothes, clothes typically worn by younger children, or clothes that look overly formal. Autistic children may not know or care that they look different. Parents may wish to casually inform them that it's unusual, and leave the choice up to them.
Disabled students have the right to academic accommodations to suit their particular needs. Here are some examples.
- Instructions written clearly on the chalkboard or a piece of paper (e.g. activities, homework assignments and their due dates)
- A note-taker for upper-level classes
- An extra textbook (one to keep at home for the year, and one to keep at school, so there is never an issue of leaving it behind)
- The ability to count emails or blog discussion posts as classroom participation
- Giving time for students to think after asking a question, or allowing students to write and brainstorm before answering
- Visual schedules
- Classroom aides
- Extra time on tests, or the ability to take tests in a separate room without distractions
- Sitting in the front row
- The ability to move around the room
- An exercise ball to sit on, so the student can satisfy the need to move
- Allowing the use of stim toys such as tangles and koosh balls, to be played with as needed. Stimming can be highly beneficial to concentration in autistics.
Parents: Helping Struggling Children
- Autistic children may benefit from an organized homework planner, where they can write down class assignments and the materials they need to bring.
- Tutors can help tailor learning to the child's individual needs.
- Discuss potential accommodations with your child. This will help your child feel ownership of his/her education. Furthermore, (s)he may point out needs that no one else noticed.
- Read tips from autistic bloggers. Many autistic people like to share school survival strategies that they discovered along the way.
- If your autistic children reports being bullied, believe it.
- Explain to your child that (s)he should tell a teacher if (s)he is bullied, and that if the teacher doesn't take it seriously, to tell you about it. Explain that you will believe your child and help stop bullies.
- Make it clear to your child that you are proud of them no matter what.
Helping Children with Bullies
Talk to your child early on about bullies, especially (but not only) if your child is experiencing or witnessing bullying. Your child needs to understand what is going on, and know how to respond to a situation. Here are things an autistic child may want to know:
- How to deflect a bully
- How to tell a teacher (and what to do if the teacher doesn't listen or care)
- How to step in if someone else is being bullied
Make it clear to them that bullying is the fault of the bully, not the victim. Teach them the script "I'm okay, you're mean." They can say it to the bullies, and use it to remind themselves that the bully is wrong.
Don't ever be your child's first bully. Treat them with respect, listen to them even when you don't like what they're saying, and trust your instincts if an adult is doing something to them that makes you uncomfortable. When your child is around, avoid bemoaning how hard it is to be an "autism parent" or how much you hate autism. Because autism is a part of their brain, they'll blame themselves.