Friday, 1 July 2016

Teaching a Learner with Asperger's in the Work Place

Teaching a Learner with Asperger’s in the Work Place

I recently was asked to work with a learner with Asperger's; mostly because no one else felt comfortable with working with him - they were just unsure of what to do. 
I have put together some information which might be helpful for anyone working with any adult learner. 

The following is based on some information that I researched and my own personal experience. 

If you have a learner with Asperger’s Syndrome be aware that they often have difficulty changing from task to task, multitasking, difficulty with learning new tasks and transferring skills from one situation to another (generalisation). Things we assume a person learns from exposure and experience have to be specifically taught to the person with Asperger’s Syndrome and constantly reinforced to reduce the stress, confusion and frustration which may lead to behavioural difficulties, or withdrawal and depression.

Understanding the difficulties of an employee and learner with Asperger’s Syndrome is important, as is providing routine, structure and predictability. Not everyone with Asperger’s Syndrome will excel in every job or learning situation but where they do find a niche they are generally well regarded and with support and understanding, make reliable and productive employees and learners.

This is a much generalised paper with information you might find helpful when working with a learner with Asperger’s Syndrome in a work environment.
  
Be aware that in the workplace, the person with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulty:
o   Interpreting instructions
o   In noisy situations
o   In unstructured situations
o   Starting work
o   Organising tasks
So working with a learner in the workplace can double the difficulty. Preparing the learner prior to meeting with them regularly, will help to reduce their stress.

Strategies
1. Keep instructions brief and precise
o   Use simple, concrete language
o   Written instructions are preferable; using both verbal and written – even better
o   Confirm that the person has understood
o   Set up a cue system when working with the learner

2. Give the person time to process the Instruction
o   Be sure you have his/her attention and that you allow them enough time to absorb each instruction
o   Demonstrate examples / model an example (a presentation for example)

3. If practical, make use of visual cues and procedures
o   A written schedule or task sheet is preferable to verbal instructions (when looking at long-term rather than immediate tasks)

4. Break work into smaller steps
o   Check progress regularly
o   Check for understanding
o   Be prepared to negotiate with the learner 
Organisational Skills (Planning)

People with Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty with:
o   Organising themselves and their belongings
o   Listening to multiple instructions
o   Coping with changes – room, times, workmates
o   Distractions – being easily side tracked
o   Interpreting abstract instructions
o   Sequential instructions
o   Focussing on the important part of instruction
o   Planning how to tackle a task
o   Fine and gross motor skills

Strategies
o   Use visual cues and instructions
o   Colour code the instructions
o   Use concrete language 
o   Allow the learner to mark off each task as it is finished (a tick list – brilliant)
o   Point to the starting place
o   Show an example of what you are requiring
o   Review / go over previous lesson
o   Very clear briefing re changes, targets, expectations, lesson outline, etc., before you start the lesson

Communication
The expressive (spoken) and receptive (listening) language skills of the person with Asperger’s Syndrome have particular characteristics:
o   They may have a foreign or odd intonation
o   May show concrete interpretation
o   May show one word/one meaning use of words
o   May show unusual linkage of thoughts
o   Be confined to narrow topics of conversation
o   May feature learned phrases in particular situations
o   May be out of synch so that their receptive skills are not necessarily in line with their expressive skills (they may write better; but have difficulty verbally expressing the same kind of information)
o   Often can misinterpret of what was said
o   Often hear only the beginning or end of an instruction or comment
o   Are not able to interpret the real meaning of colloquialisms, metaphors, similes, sarcasm or wit
o   May have feelings of inadequacy and isolation from peers because they cannot understand the social situations of what is happening around them

Strategies
o   Use visual cues where possible
o   Explain if you are joking or teasing
o   Reassure that it is OK to be wrong and be supportive
o   Keep your language simple and direct
o   Talk through situations; “what could you say…?”
o   Refrain from using sarcasm


Social Skills
People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often socially “blind”. The big problem is that they do not know how to behave even though they may know they are different and do want to interact.
They:
o   Don’t understand rules of social behaviour
o   May talk about inappropriate subjects
o   Appear to lack empathy...don’t understand their own feelings let alone those of others
o   Can be very outspoken and tactless
o   May develop a fixation on certain individuals
o   Have a strong sense of justice, but see things in black and white terms
o   Have difficulty making friends
o   Can lack the idea of personal space
o   Can misinterpret the behaviours of peers
o   May dislike being touched
o   Can appear naive and are vulnerable
o   Have difficulty interpreting body language, gestures or facial expressions
o   Have poor conversation skills 

Strategies
o   A “debrief” of situations by discussing what he/she could have done
o   Encourage self-control by providing a ‘timeout’ period and location to enable them to destress and relax without any social expectations or demands placed on them
o   Use written reminders to support proposed actions
o   Be very aware of how vulnerable the person may be to peer pressure and being setup

Conclusion
Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome need
o   Consistency
o   Predictability
o   A calm and controlled supervisor
o   An organised work space
o   Regular review and feedback

o   Regular checking for understanding

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