Improving Skills: Asperger’s Syndrome and Written Language
Students with Asperger’s Syndrome
Research is limited on the writing skills of students with Asperger’s syndrome. According to the 2003 study by Myles et al., however, standardized tests indicate these students typically produce shorter and less complex written passages. As more and more high-functioning children with autism are taught in the general classroom, educators indeed find significant impairments in their writing skills. Students with Asperger’s experience difficulties with organizing, drafting, editing, and seeking and receiving help throughout the writing process.
In addition to impairments in the cognitive and behavioral processes necessary for writing, children with Asperger’s are often challenged by fine motor and coordination deficits. Students with these difficulties should receive occupational therapy to help them improve fine motor and coordination development. While OT develops these skills, teachers should use explicit instruction and specific strategies for dealing with Asperger’s syndrome and written language improvement.
Specific Strategies for Working with Students with Asperger’s Syndrome and Written Language
If a student with Asperger’s has fine motor difficulties, assistive technology can be explored to take the place of handwriting. Students should be taught proper typing skills and have daily practice developing keyboarding abilities. In fact, computer use can be incorporated into daily instruction with the understanding that the computer is a valuable tool for learning and communicating. Voice recognition software may also be an option to reduce frustration and to produce spoken words on a page.
Educators can instruct students on grammatical rules and the mechanics of writing. The individual aspects of organization, form, and content should be demonstrated. The goal and purpose of writing will need to be explained, too, emphasizing the importance of knowing the writer’s audience and engaging the reader. In addition, students should understand how to evaluate the content and the style of the written message.
The actual cognitive process of writing must be broken down into manageable steps with planning, organizing, drafting, and revising. Direct instruction and guidance will help students with every step of the writing process and follow up will be necessary to review each step. Additional strategies in working with students with Asperger’s syndrome and written language include:
- Teach the “big picture,” or the purpose, of writing
- Set reachable goals
- Begin with the tangible by matching words with pictures and demonstrative actions
- Build vocabulary by teaching synonyms
- Use framed paragraphs, pictures, and graphic organizers to prompt writing
- Formulate sentences aloud with the student, write them out and then have the student type them up
- Separate drafting and revising from proofreading and editing
- Explain how a final written piece requires multiple drafts
Teaching written language skills to students with Asperger’s should be a continuing process and taught throughout the curriculum. Instruction should commence as early as possible - building vocabulary, developing written language, and improving abilities to express thoughts and ideas in writing. Students will profit from daily practice in developing writing skills and receiving clear guidance in every aspect of writing.
Delano, Monica E. “Improving Written Language Performance of Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Florida State University, 2007.
Murphy, Alice & Snider, Cynde. Teaching Writing Skills to Students with HFAU and Asperger’s Syndrome: Addressing Problematic Writing Skills and Long Term Affects.