The Center for Educational Improvement

Gearing Up---Part 2

In This Issue
Aspergers and Autism
Experiencing Ocean Life

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Dear Educator,


As you are reflecting on progress this year and considerations for the next six months, why not contemplate what your school is doing to assist students with special learning needs?  In this issue we discuss Asperger's and Autism and also share an experiential learning adventure for students who are deaf-blind. Almost any child is likely to be thrilled to participate in such an adventure. One of the true joys in teaching occurs when we feel we have touched the heart of a child or stimulated a child's thinking and curiosity. Read on for some tips to improve inclusion and teaching.

Ways to Evaluate Student Behavior for  Asperger's Syndrome

by Suzan Mullane


Asperger's syndrome, believed by most to be the condition of high-functioning autism, can often go undiagnosed, especially in very bright students. Commonly, giftedness can mask Asperger's, as it does a learning disability, to the untrained eye. Consider Tim Page, a Pulitzer Prize Winner author, who was not diagnosed with Asperger's until he was in his 40s. Can you imagine? Tim tells a moving story of how he struggled while in school.


      But even the term giftedness means little in a school setting if the student is under-achieving; sadly, students with Asperger's end up underachieving or withdrawing socially, even if they are twice exceptional (Warshaw, 2002).

      Students with Asperger's may be known throughout the school community by their behaviors, such as demonstrating, lack of eye contact, temper tantrums, and a willingness to argue as they strive to control something in their black and white world (Autism Help). Lack of attending, the inability to chunk assignments, or loneliness can be overwhelming especially if there is a perception that life is not going to get any better.

       Patterns of a downward academic cycle can become entrenched in students' psyches and, in some cases, teens will self-medicate through substances, excessive video game playing and further isolation. That is why it is so important to teach to the student's strength. Dr. Temple Grandin, who has autism, feels that amazing talent can lie in those geeky kids whom no one seems to like or interact with. She has suggestions in her books and on her website for teachers:  


 Develop the child's strengths and teach them from those.  For instance, if a child likes art, then teach with art. If they like trains, then teach with trains, dinosaurs, etc. You can teach Math with trains, you can teach Art with trains. And so forth. It also helps the child to develop their interest further by broadening it out.They can learn history from studying parts of the world where dinosaurs once lived (Grandin).   


         Asperger cartoon 




       Unsurprisingly, some students with Asperger's are vulnerable to bullying. That, too, complicates despair, underachievement and sometimes--exhaustive administrative time. 


Ideas for School Professionals 

         What can school personnel do to help students with Asperger's while striving for confidentiality and promoting awareness for this vulnerable population?  First, schools need to educate themselves on autistic traits and interventions, given the increasingly high numbers of diagnoses.  

       Obviously, schools are charged with the protection of all students. Wise administrators may see kids with autistic characteristics and want to provide all staff with general directions for quick "triage" techniques.

         In-service trainings on how to deal with Asperger's /autism are prudent proactive strategies before problems occur. Here are some screening observations for twice exceptional youth or students with Asperger's who are also gifted.


Students who:

  • Excel during science and math tests but are reluctant to raise their hands in class
  • May not interact with many peers but want to interact with the teacher exclusively.
  • Have immature or illegible hand writing. 
  • Are frequent fliers to the nurse with somatic complaints.
  •  Are victims of bullying.
  •  Lack of eye-contact.
  •  Have poor articulation or speech issues.
  •  Lack of empathy for others.

Twice-exceptional is a term used to describe children and youth who are uniquely gifted and have a disability. With respect to Asperger's, the pronounced disability is in the area of social skill development. What can educators do?


  • Identify students' strengths and interests to enhance motivation and self-esteem.
  • Have them participate as a peer tutor to increase their socialization while helping other students.
  • Share information with parents and listen to their concerns.
  • Utilize school coaches for swimming or track to enhance social skills.
  •  Differentiate instruction.
  •  Use laptops for writing.
  •  Use Alternative tests or test re-test method.
  •  Secure parent permission for video-taping so students  may see themselves visually.
  •  Develop IEPs and authentic assessments.
  •  Use Applied Behavior Analysis.
  •   Provide speech therapy when applicable.

         The time and effort with this vulnerable population is so rewarding. Children and youth who have Asperger's can gravitate to concepts so fast and often they became the class experts. Now there's a self-esteem booster!


Autism Help (n.d.) Autism Help Info.

Grandin, T. (n.d.)

Warshaw, M. (2002) Tips for parents: Meeting the needs of twice-exceptional children. Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Students with Disabilities Experience Ocean Life
    by Carolyn Lieberg


Nearly all children are fascinated by the world of underwater animals--whales, starfish, seahorses, octopus. Visitors flock to aquariums around the country, from Newport, Oregon, to Newport, Rhode Island, and the majority of visiting groups include one or more children.

     Looking through the glass walls or into the vast pools of water can satisfy a great deal of curiosity for some children. Others, though, want to go further--or deeper--and spend time along the ocean shore, collecting shells, watching for dolphins, or touching the animals or plants that live there.

     In the coastal city of Fairhope, Alabama, students from the Regional School for the Deaf and Blind spent a day in October wading in the waters of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Their experience is one that many children would enjoy and learn from. The fourth and fifth graders used nets to sieve for sea animals and became acquainted in a very explicit way with the marshlands. 

                   Blind in Fairhope,Ala 


      The students followed up these activities by sketching their experiences on paper. Angela Underwood, education specialist at Weeks Bay, described the students' activities as being "like real naturalists, so we were teaching them to observe closely and make visual recordings, just like marine scientists do." Amy Hess, mobility specialist at the Regional School, described the pleasure the students had in pulling the nets. She added that the students' ability to touch the animals gave them a way "to visualize all the parts of the marine creatures...Learning doesn't get better than this. (Fitzhugh, 2011)"

      How often we hear about an adult whose career was seeded by a childhood dream. Exposing children to experiences out of their everyday lives can plant such a dream. One trail that a child might follow would be to participate in a program such as "Research Experience for Undergraduates - the Gulf of Maine and World Ocean." The 2012 program, lasting from June into August, pairs participating undergraduates with a scientist from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences based in Maine. The program is sponsored and paid for by the National Science Foundation. Students with disabilities are encouraged to apply (Bigelow).


Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. (n.d.) Research experience for undergraduates, Gulf of Maine and the World Ocean.

Fitzhugh, R. (2011, 4 November) Students with disabilities touch, draw marine life. Press-Register Correspondent. Fairhope, Alabama.





Autism -- Ways Teachers Can Intervene and Support

by Suzan Mullane     


One in 70 boys is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, according to an "Autism Speaks" recent statistic. "More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined." (web address below)  


     Whether this shocking number is the result of greater societal awareness, toxins in the environment, or changes in genetic predispositions, the debate on etiology does not change the urgency for effective behavioral and academic strategies for classroom teachers and parents. What strategy is the best?

     Quests for the "best practice" on autism can be confusing, even for veteran teachers, given the plethora of books, articles and scientific research on the subject. Even Applied Behavioral Analysis techniques can fail if we pigeonhole kids into scripted procedures without carefully studying the unique nuances that help them thrive emotionally and cognitively. Here's a helpful blueprint; these suggestions are certainly not exhaustive but ones I've embraced to help guide me.


Identification and Planning

  • Identify and intervene with pre-schoolers if there are developmental lags through Child Find or Infant Learning. Research shows the earlier the better.
  • Ensure that assessments are comprehensive with in-put from psychologies and speech/occupational therapists.
  • Develop an IEP with  a team.
  • Remember this can be a lonely frightening time for parents; assure them they're not alone but a valuable member of the team and they do not have to walk this journey alone.
  • Immediately establish genuine warmth, enthusiasm and optimistic care with your student.
  • Identify three strengths in every child. Use these for: effective communication with child, parents, classroom instruction and reinforcement.


  • When possible, teach reading acquisition through music if your student enjoys music; it aids in memory and motivation.
  • Teach fine motor, language and pre-writing strategies. through art. Visual kinesthetic art activities engage the brain.
  • Find times of the day where fatigue can set in and plan accordingly-look for patterns for emotional meltdowns especially during times of transition.
  • Use humor and puppets with younger children to help keep meltdowns at bay.
  • Use time-out sparingly.
  • Consider Carol Gray's Social Stories for pro-social skills training (
  • Use drama and readers' theater for language and social skills training.
  • Seek peer tutors. Kids enjoy the interaction.
  • Teach through interactive smart boards for all subjects-engages the brain.


  • Keep a journal and data sheets to pinpoint strengths, patterns and weaknesses that need remediation.
  • Above all keep it positive by changing an intervention if you see poor academic or behavioral growth. However, remember and build on the student's strengths and interests.
  • Research outside recreational agencies that have a proven track record with children and youth with autism. 
  • Implement personal safety programs that include basic safety and also emotional security and safety strategies because these students are vulnerable.  Remember they can be targets of bullying, so help prepare both them and others to avoid calamities.
  • Use group buddy systems.
Autism Speaks:                                                                              



Whether it is Asberger's, Autism, a multiply-handicapping condition, or a more prevalent condition such as learning disabilities, there are many students who thrive with special considerations and accommodations.  For students with special needs, there are at least a 1,001 ways to improve their school experiences and improve their learning.  Many of the strategies work equally well with many other students.  By planning for technology, hands-on education, graphic organizers, and an array of techniques such as step-by-step directions, more frequent feedback, and peer-tutoring, teachers are gearing up for a more supportive school environment for many students, not only those who are officially identified with disabilities.


Take the time, the investment pays off !  Have a happy holiday!


With regards, 

Christine Mason 
Center for Educational Improvement
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at