< Previous | Contents | Next >

Autism Spectrum Disorder/ Asperger’s Syndrome

Some neurological disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), are more prominent among college students than others. Within this category, CUNY is seeing an increasing number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (originally diagnosed as Asperger’s Syndrome).

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. The symptoms of people with ASD fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms.

Students with ASD may develop many practical skills, and though they often cannot tolerate the whirl of everyday life, they are capable of living full lives and making important contributions to their living environment.

Functional Limitations

  • Poor non-verbal communication e.g., reduced facial expression, monotonous intonation, and limited and inappropriate gestures
  • Poor comprehension of other people’s verbal and non-verbal expressions
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Clumsiness and poor coordination
  • A preference for repetitive activities, a strong attachment to certain possessions, and distress at a change of whereabouts
  • Problems with abstract thinking and concepts
  • Behaviors

  • Peculiarities of eye gaze, such as inability to make eye contact and read visual cues
  • Inattention to the listener’s needs; clumsy communication and interpersonal interaction
  • Pedantic and perseverative speech (e.g., repeating words and phrases over and over)
  • Unusual language characteristics e.g., exaggerated length of utterances, embedded sentences, or locked in wording
  • Over-focus on precision
  • Written text consisting of continuous, unduly prolonged declarations or statements
  • Special interests and skills are usually dependent on excellent rote memory
  • Accommodations

  • Alternate tests
  • Extended time on exams
  • Distraction-reduced testing space
  • Reduced course load
  • Extended time on assignments
  • Access to class notes, a note-taker, or use of a tape recorder for lectures
  • Teaching Strategies

  • Prepare the student for all changes in routine and/or environment
  • Use verbal cues, clear visual demonstrations, and physical cues
  • Avoid abstract ideas when possible; when abstract ideas are necessary, use visual cues as an aid
  • Understand that an increase in unusual or difficult behaviors probably indicates an increase in stress, in which case ask the student if would he or she like to talk with you
  • Don’t take misbehavior personally
  • Avoid nicknames such as Pal, Buddy, Wise Guy, etc.; idioms (“save your breath,” “jump the gun,” “second thoughts,” etc.); double meanings, sarcasm, and teasing
  • Be as concrete as possible, avoiding vague questions like, “Why did you do that?” Avoid complex essay-type questions, since students will rarely know when they have said enough or if they are properly addressing the core of the question
  • Break tasks down into smaller steps, or present them in more than one way i.e., visually, verbally, and physically
  • Avoid verbal overload
  • Be aware that for some individuals what might seem like ordinary classroom auditory and visual input can, in fact, represent perceptual extremes of too much or too little
  • Use writing if a student uses repetitive verbal arguments and/or questions, requesting she write down the argumentative statement or question, and then writing your reply. Or try writing her argument and/or question yourself, and then asking the student to write a logical reply
  • Our Sources and Additional Resources:

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet:
  • Asperger Syndrome:
  • DO-IT Home (University of Washington):
  • Awareness of Students with Diverse Learning Needs, What the Teacher Needs to Know, Volume 1:
  • http://www.gnb.ca/0000/publications/curric/awarchronichealth.pdf