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Autism Information Handout

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Many children within the autism spectrum are being taught in mainstream classrooms with daily pullouts for social training and other specialized support. Often the regular education teachers have little or no knowledge about autism or the special needs these children may have. The information below was originally compiled as a handout for teachers attending an in-service meeting preparatory to having autism spectrum children placed in their classrooms. It also works great for use when conferencing with the parents of these children as it details some specific areas where the parent or teacher can work with a child to help overcome autism related difficulties.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction generally evident before age 3, which adversely affects a child's educational performance.

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger Syndrome is a neurological condition that affects social and emotional interaction. It is considered a disorder at the higher end of the autistic continuum.


  • Inappropriate laughing or giggling
  • No real fear of dangers
  • Apparent insensitivity to pain
  • May not want cuddling
  • Sustained unusual or repetitive play
  • Uneven physical or verbal skills
  • May avoid eye contact
  • May prefer to be alone
  • Difficulty in expressing needs; may use gestures
  • Inappropriate attachments to objects
  • Insistence on sameness
  • Echoes words or phrases
  • Inappropriate response or no response to sound
  • Spins objects or self
  • Difficulty in interacting with others

What is the difference between high-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome?

  • Share many of the same traits
  • Difference on academic ability
  • Social needs

Insistence on Sameness

  • Easily overwhelmed by change, even slight changes
  • Highly sensitive to environmental influences, and sometimes engage in rituals
  • Anxious and tend to worry obsessively when they do not know what to expect, fatigue, and sensory overload easily throw them off balance
  • Transitions are difficult

How to help

  • General classroom routine--where to sit, where to find materials, where to look for information
  • Minimize transitions, have clear cues for transitions, and give advance warning
  • Daily routines
  • Picture schedule

Impairment of Social interaction

  • Seems naive, unaware of "the ways of the world", egocentric
  • Dislike physical contact
  • Talks "at" people instead of to them
  • Does not understand jokes, irony, or metaphors
  • Monotone or stilted tone of voice
  • Inappropriate gaze and body language
  • Insensitive and lacks tact
  • Misinterprets social cues, doesn't understand facial expression and body language

How to help

  • Discuss with class about how everyone has trouble with some things.
  • Praise classmates when they treat the child with compassion.
  • Create cooperative projects in which the children work together in teams toward a shared goal. 
  • Teach social skills, cues and use social stories.

Restricted Range of Interests

  • May have intense fixations (sometimes collecting unusual things)
  • They tend to relentlessly "lecture" on areas of interest, ask repetitive questions about interests, and have trouble letting go of ideas
  • Often follow their own inclinations regardless of external demands, and sometimes refuse to learn about anything outside their limited field of interest

How to help

  • Designate a specific time during the day when the child can talk about a favorite subject.
  • Use the child's interests as a guide to learning.
  • Use positive reinforcement.
  • Broaden their scope of interest.

Sensory Issues and Poor Concentration

  • May often seem off task and distracted by internal or external stimuli or sensory issues
  • Acts disorganized, not knowing where to start or end
  • Unusual reactions to different stimulus

How to help

  • Seat at front of class and direct frequent questions to child
  • Break assignments down into small units
  • Timed work sessions
  • Firm expectations and a structured program (learns rules and rewards)
  • Buddy worker to help remind student to stay on task
  • Provide sensory opportunities, or opportunities for break area
  • Sensory integration training

Poor Motor Coordination

  • May be physically clumsy and awkward
  • May seem accident-prone and have a hard time playing games involving motor skill.
  • Often have fine motor deficits that can cause penmanship problems that affect their ability to form letters or write clearly.

How to help

  • Occupational/Physical Therapy
  • Make sure that the children around the child are supportive and do not tease
  • Adaptations made for handwriting such as tracing, copying, or using markers
  • Take into consideration time for child's slower writing

Language Difficulties

  • May seem behind in communication, or be very advanced (sound like a walking dictionary or encyclopedia)
  • Tend to be very literal
  • Their images are concrete, and abstraction is poor (may give the impression that they understand what they are talking about, when in reality they may be merely parroting what they have heard or read)
  • Rely on pictures more than understanding of words and may have reading difficulties
  • Poor Auditory processing

How to help

  • Make adaptations such as fewer sentences or draw a picture to express understanding
  • Explain meaning of metaphors (i.e. if talking about camels being "ships of the desert", be prepared to explain exactly why)
  • Pictures to convey meaning
  • Capitalize on their memory
  • Adapt reading assignments

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