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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001

Intervention Strategies by Susan Stokes

Difficulty Taking the Perspective of Others (Theory of Mind)

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can have great difficulty understanding that other people can have thoughts, intentions, needs, desires and beliefs different from their own (6). Thus their perceptions of the world are often viewed as rigid and egocentric, when in reality they are unable to infer other people’s mental states. Typically developing children acquire “Theory of Mind” skills by age four, yet it estimated that this concept develops between the ages of 9-14 in children with Asperger’s Syndrome (6). The following are educational implications for children who have “Theory of Mind” deficit (6):

When the teacher asks a question to the class, the child thinks that the teacher is speaking directly (and only) to him, and therefore calls out the answer.

A child with Asperger’s Syndrome can be extremely vulnerable to wrongful intent initiated by other children. He can have great difficulty reading the intentions of others and understanding the motives behind their behavior (e.g., a fifth grade student “befriended” a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and told him to say and do many inappropriate verbalizations/actions, for which he got into trouble).

Due to difficulty in being able to understand the emotional perspective of others, the child may exhibit a seemingly lack of empathy (e.g., a child with Asperger’s Syndrome may laugh seemingly inappropriately when another child gets hurt).

The child may have difficulty understanding that his behavior (both actions and words) can affect how others think or feel. He doesn’t appear to understand that his words or actions can make someone feel different than his own emotional state. He is not purposefully trying to hurt others. He is factually relating information, without regard to the other person’s feelings.
Example: The child with Asperger’s Syndrome may want to play on the computer during free time, and will attempt to do so with little to no regard to the child who is already occupying this activity. Another example: The child may state quite bluntly, “Someone stinks in here. I think it’s Lori. Lori, you stink!”

Cooperative learning groups can be extremely challenging for the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Again, he may have difficulty understanding that the other children in his group can have thoughts and ideas different than his own. This can often result in a significant increase in the child’s stress, frustration and anxiety, leading to the possible occurrence of challenging behaviors.

The child may have difficulty taking into account what other people know or can be expected to know, leading to confusion on the part of the listener. Because the child can have great difficulty in considering the listener’s perspective, he may exhibit the following shortfalls when relating information:

Provide insufficient background information to establish the subject;

A lack of referents;

Excluding important pieces of relational information, as he already knows this information;

Giving an excessive amount of irrelevant details when relating information, again oblivious to the listener’s needs.

These children may exhibit an inability to deceive or to understand deception. They are sometimes described as the “classroom cops”, due to their concrete and literal interpretation of information given. When rules are broken, they willingly identify the guilty party, with no awareness that they should participate in any sort of deception, even if they are the guilty party.

Mind Reading/Theory of Mind Deficit Intervention Strategies
Training designed to specifically address the above features will assist the child in learning to consider the perspective of others. “Teaching Children with Autism to Mind-Read: A Practical Guide” is a good resource book with specific skills and activities clearly outlined for intervention (11).

The child will need to be taught to recognize the effect of his actions on others (6). If he says something offensive, let him know very concretely and literally that “words hurt, just like getting punched in the arm”. Encourage the child to stop and think how a person will feel before he acts or speaks.

Comic strip conversations can be used as a tool to visually clarify communicative social interactions and emotional relations through the use of simple line drawings. Specific colors are used to convey various emotional states for both the speaker and listener (8).

Children’s literature, videos, movies, or T.V. shows can be used to teach the child to interpret the actions of the characters, thus teaching him how to figure out what other people know (5).

Reprinted from 
"Children with Asperger's Syndrome: Characteristics/Learning Styles and Intervention Strategies" by Susan Stokes, Autism Consultant for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency #7, Wisconsin State Department of Special Education. 

    Improving the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum in grades K-12

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