Eastern Michigan University

Asperger Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a "spectrum" of several neurological conditions, which display differing degrees of impairment in language, communication, and the severity of repetitive or restrictive thoughts and behavior. ASDs, also called Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), include:

  • Asperger Syndrome
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Rett's Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

The rest of this document focuses on Asperger Syndrome; however, you can view the links on the right for more information on the remainder of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Asperger Syndrome is characterized by significant difficulty with social interaction and specific, repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. These difficulties cause significant impairment in careers, relationships, school or other important areas of life.

Students with Asperger Syndrome may also exhibit or experience the following:
  • Delay in social and emotional development, not necessarily intelligence. Students with Asperger Syndrome usually possess average to above average intelligence.
  • Extensive vocabularies and the ability to speak at length about their topics of interest
  • Tone of speech that is monotone or overly formal
  • Difficulty initiating and engaging in reciprocal conversation. Many monopolize conversation because they do not understand social cues indicating the give and take of conversation.
  • Difficulty with "theory of mind," or understanding another person's experience
  • Brains of students with Asperger Syndrome seem to process information differently than those without Asperger Syndrome. They are likely adept at noticing details and remembering facts, but have difficulty seeing the larger picture.
  • Difficulty understanding metaphors and non-literal speech
  • Delays in motor skill development and an appearance of clumsiness may be present
  • Sensory sensitivities such as how clothing feels or to light and sound
  • Difficulty with "executive functions" - organizing, prioritizing, initiating, and completing tasks
Impact of the Environment on the Disability

Students with Asperger Syndrome will likely perform best in courses that incorporate the following elements, which may also benefit other students:

  • Structure, organization, and consistent deadlines
  • Syllabi containing structured expectations and clearly defined course requirements
  • Regularly scheduled office hours - the Disability Resource Center encourages students with Asperger Syndrome to seek out their faculty during regularly scheduled office hours
  • The students may miss subtle nuances during regular class time and require further clarification
  • Students with Asperger Syndrome may need help understanding what the professor is asking for from the assignment and what the assignment means
  • Direct, benign instruction - social cues do not come as a natural instinct to students with Asperger Syndrome, so direct instruction allows them to know what is expected.
    • Example: a student with Asperger Syndrome monopolizes class time with excessive comments. A possible solution is to let the student know that he is monopolizing the class time and to limit his comments to a clearly defined number of times per class period. Beyond that, he is to write down comments and share them after class.
    • Faculty may not want to hurt the student's feelings, but students with Asperger Syndrome perform better when they know the rules. Please contact the DRC for consultation regarding any further questions.
  • Literal instructions - due to difficulties with metaphors coupled with deficits with theory of mind, students with Asperger Syndrome will likely struggle in classes such as literature. Literal direction is often needed to clarify confusion.
  • Presentations - ability to present to a small group or one-on-one, webcast, videotape, read with back to the class, alternate assignment (if presentation is not fundamental to class), etc.Group projects - select partners in advance, assign tasks, professor monitors group dynamics, or ability for student to work alone (if applicable).
  • Classroom and testing environment that minimizes distractions and recognizes that all students process information differently, some requiring more or less time.
  • Notes provided in advance of class.

When the environment and the disability are not compatible, students with Asperger Syndrome commonly receive any or all of the following accommodations:

  • Quiet environment for testing if sensory sensitivities are present
  • Extended test time for those who require more time to process information
  • Ability to type exams or use speech-to-text software if fine motor issues exist
  • Laptop for note taking or use of a note taker/copy of professor's notes
  • Permission to take breaks as needed, for example, if over-stimulated in class
Sources and Additional Information
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