The following is from Karen.
I am mother and advocate to an amazing 13 y/o with Asperger's Syndrome. It always helps to prepare ahead each school year, so I have a basic intro letter that I send out to his teachers explaining his uniqueness. This was last year's intro letter which I will be modifying as needed for the upcoming school year:
Dear 7th grade Teachers,
As I am sure you are aware, David has Asperger's Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of Autism. It means that his brain works differently and he processes things differently than typical children. Asperger's is a neurological condition, often affecting communication, social interaction and sensory issues. It is often referred to as the "invisible syndrome" because of the internal struggles these kids have without outwardly demonstrating any real noticeable symptoms. I want to briefly describe some of David's strengths and difficulties in order to facilitate a successful school year, as each child with Asperger's Syndrome is so unique.
Academically, David is highly intelligent and is usually on the high honor roll in school. He loves Math and Science especially. He is a hands on learner who is very detail oriented and is good with facts. He also really loves computers and is very good with them. He can become obsessed with things to the point of becoming quite an "expert" on the subject, and this could be advantageous at times. He does struggle with Reading comprehension at times, and truthfully does not like to read because of that, and also because of focus and attention issues resulting from his coexisting ADHD diagnosis. While he can pick the facts out of a book, when you ask what was meant by something he often cannot tell you.
David thrives with structure and routine, and when there is unstructured time, such as at lunch, assemblies, or field trips he can have a difficult time understanding what is expected of him and then following through. He also gets picked on a lot by other kids during these times, as he does not fit in with them socially. He is very rule oriented, or black and white. When rules are stated and followed he is in control of his world, but when rules are broken his world can quickly spiral out of control and he no longer knows how to behave. Sometimes this can lead to anger and frustration and he has a difficult time calming himself down. Competition can be another trigger, and when he is not instantly good at something he can become easily frustrated. Please allow breaks as needed, and do not trust him to tell you when he needs them, as oftentimes he does not realize he is building up to that point.
As most children with Asperger's Syndrome, David also has a coexisting Sensory Integration Disorder. He talks very loudly at times because his sense of hearing is so keen that he hears things like the clock ticking, pages turning, the motor in the fan, the lights buzzing (yes, he actually can "hear" the lights), etc. He hears these noises so much louder than they actually are and is unable to tune them out as we are, so as a result he tries to talk above everything that he is hearing. We have been trying to work with him at home on this using "The Incredible 5 Point Scale", though he would not be very comfortable or cooperative in school using this in front of his peers as he would have to explain what it means to the other kids when they ask, again calling attention to him. He has scheduled sensory input during the school day, and we also work with him at home with sensory issues.
David also sometimes has difficulty looking directly at you when there is a lot going on around him. While this does not occur all of the time, sometimes he needs to look away to be able to absorb what you are saying or to concentrate on what he is saying. He is not trying to be rude or disrespectful at all. We were recently at a mall food court where it was very busy and noisy, and a friend was with us. As they tried to carry on a conversation with David, he was responding appropriately but looking in the complete opposite direction the entire time he was talking. Other times when it is not so busy he has absolutely no problem with eye contact.
Also, David's perceptions can be a little off at times, as his Asperger's Syndrome causes him to interpret things differently than others. He is very literal at times, and also sometimes does not understand figures of speech, body language, or facial expressions, though he is slowly learning this. Recently he was having a difficult time with something he was doing, and I told him not to worry, that I would help him, and to keep his chin up. He immediately thrust his chin up into the air and asked what good that was going to do. We discussed this, so now he understands this particular idiom, and we teach them as they come up.
David tries his hardest to appear flawless to others and does not want any of his peers to know he is different, though most of them do realize this. Please do your best to protect his privacy. A lot of things that most other children naturally know or pick up on, David needs to be taught. We try to use every opportunity as a teaching moment rather than to punish him for things he simply does not know or cannot help. Punishment does not work for children with Asperger's Syndrome, positive reinforcement is best.
David can become very frustrated during his school day between all of the sensory overload, changes, and transitions. Little things can upset him, from a different bus that picks him up, to an unexpected change in routine, arriving late at school, having a substitute teacher, kids laughing at him or not including him, etc. All of these seemingly very small things build up to a point where he explodes, and this usually happens at home where he is most comfortable and secure. He has a very high anxiety level. We are working on his coping skills, and he attends therapy on a weekly basis for this and also for Social Skills in Allentown. He will also be starting Speech and Language shortly to address his pragmatic communication difficulties.
Like any other child, David wants very badly to fit in with his peers, but seems to have great difficulty doing so. He does seem to hang around with girls mostly, as most of the boys do not accept him or his differences. He tries his best to emulate his peers, but sometimes targets the wrong things to emulate or does so in appropriate ways. Please be patient with him, he is trying his very best.
David has a great sense of humor, but sometimes does not understand jokes. He is also a very sensitive, kind, and thoughtful child, and a simple smile and pat on the back from a teacher can go such a long way with him, he will do cartwheels for you. He tries very hard to please others, and if he perceives an adult as not liking him he is totally crushed and will withdraw and not participate. Though it may seem hard to believe, David has a very low self esteem. Giving him special jobs, or asking for his help with something like a computer issue, and praising him in front of his peers can have a huge positive impact on his self esteem, and would be greatly appreciated.
There is so much more that I could write about. As time goes on I am sure there will be things that come up that I would be glad to help with, and likewise I would welcome any input from you as to things that you feel we can do to help at home. Please do not hesitate to contact me via email or phone for any reason, even if it seems to be something not so important. I look forward to working together as a team and having a very successful year ahead, and I know that communication between school and home is very important to that success. I will do my best to keep you informed also of any changes at home that may cause him any difficulties in school. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for getting to know my child and his unique abilities and difficulties.