Practical Strategies

How can I help my adolescent study?

As your child moves into High School and perhaps Uni he/she is going to need to have some independent study skills. Here are a few ideas to help you.

  • Set up a place where the study will happen
  • Set definite start and finish times for each subject
  • Colour code these times to the school subject timetable
  • Start with the least favourite subject
  • Put in place definite goals (start and finish times) for how much work is going to be done
  • Allow rewards for achieving these goals (allow the child to have some input into the kind of reward)
  • Show the child how to use colour when note taking. He can colour code different ideas and concepts
  • Show him how to organise his work into different subject areas
  • Place notes into subject folders of the Tudour organiser
  • Allow him spare time to indulge his special interest if he becomes overwhelmed
  • Experiment with soothing or favourite music (my son needed to have his music on to do any work)
  • Allow the child a stress ball to play with Get him to draw pictures of concepts to help him remember (draw mind maps)
  • Get the child started and leave him for a while. Check on him regularly to give help

How to ask for help

This is one of the most difficult aspects of school life for a student with ASD. When you read "thoughts from an Asperger adolescent" on the front page of the newsletter it makes you realise how hard it is for them.

Direct modelling is the most appropriate course of action.

We need to help the student recognise:

  • When he needs help
  • That he needs to ask for help
  • How to ask for help
  • That the teacher is the person to ask for help
  • What are the appropriate words to use to ask for help in the classroom

Recognising the need for help is not an easy concept for someone with Asperger Syndrome (see Thoughts from an Asperger Adolescent page 1), and the idea that they need to ask for help is sometimes incomprehensible (remember the Mr. Perfect attitude).

Anna Tullemans AssignmentsPut up your hand to ask a question!

Teaching these skills is easy but patience is required as this skill can take time before it is utilized appropriately.

Watch the student, when he is looking blank, far off into space or acting inappropriately use the following strategies to teach. You can also create situations where the appropriate equipment is not available and the student needs to ask for help.

Start with a visual reminder:

  • Script the words that he needs to use
  • Show the student the script and place it in an appropriate place, inside his folder or desk
  • Show him:Anna Tullemans Assignments
    • how to use it
    • when to use it
  • Refer to it on a regular basis

Include in the script visual prompts such as:

  • When you feel like this ......... you need to ask for help
  • This is how you ask for help
    • Put up your hand
    • Call out the teachers name


Anna Tullemans AssignmentsIn setting assignments what we must remember is that the process is more important than the final product especially when that person has an autism spectrum disorder.

Successful Strategies

As most of our AS students are visual learners it's important to show them examples of successful previous assignments eg: show them examples of "A" grade.

Allow them to:

  • Follow the same format
  • Same amount of pictures on page one and two etc
  • Pictures placed in the same space
  • Same headings
  • Same sub headings

Give them:

  • Specific Headings
  • Specific questions that need to be answered

Some students may need:

  • Beginnings of paragraphs
  • Contents for each paragraph
  • Specific questions to be answered in the:
    • Introduction
    • Body
    • Conclusion
  • Specific number of paragraphs for each of the above
  • Specific number of sentences for each of the above

Anna Tullemans AssignmentsUsing fewer words on an assignment sheet can help to keep the assignment from being so overwhelming. Break the assignment into three pieces, on three sheets of paper. Only one part of the assignment is to be completed by the student to begin with. Once all three parts are complete help the student put the three pieces together into an acceptable format.

  • Reduce the number of assignments
  • Shorten the length of assignment
  • Ensure students have access to information that they understand, for example simplified handouts
  • Outline in simple sentences what steps should be followed
  • Give specific outlines
  • Present the information with fewer words
  • Give introduction only on one piece of paper
  • Follow with body on separate piece
  • Conclusion on separate piece

To view or download a printable PDF assignment breakdown sheet, click on pdfAssignment sheet

Preparing for Visitors

A major issue in the life of many ASD people is change and spontaneity. They sometimes find this interruption to their ordered world bewildering and overwhelming. Emotions are externalised and we see many inappropriate behaviours and self stimulation appear.

There are ways in which we can prepare the person with ASD for some of these changes, for example when expecting visitors to your house.

We begin by discussing with the child visitors and the joy that a visit can bring. We include information about the stimulation that a conversation can bring. We talk about it in terms that the person with ASD can understand eg.

"You know how much you love talking about computers (dinosaurs/string/trains) and how good it makes you feel, well I have the same good feelings when I have conversations with our visitors."

Then explain to them about acceptable behaviours when greeting guests and what they can do when they are finished their greeting.

For example: A visit by Aunty Rina.

The main problem is that Aunty Rina always gives big bear hugs, three kisses and a big tweak on the cheek and then tells you how much you have grown and how handsome/gorgeous you look. This unexpected physical contact can usually make greetings very tense affairs or the person may not make an appearance at all (to the consternation of visiting relatives!).

We need to prepare the person for the physical contact that is about to happen. Many people with ASD only like to be touched on their terms. By preparing him/her you are creating the touch "on their terms" and they are ready for the physical contact.

Creating a winning situation

We need to prepare the person in advance on how to greet visitors. In the case of Aunty Rina we would tell the AS person about how she always greets him and why she does that. For example: It's just who she is! This is her way of showing you she loves you.

Preparation begins:

Explain why Aunty Rina greets the way she does:

  • It's who she is
  • Being Italian, she loves to be hugged
  • She loves to hug back
  • This is how she shows she loves you

This is what you can expect:

  • She gives you a big bear hug
  • She gives you three big kisses (she's Italian!)
  • She tells you how handsome/gorgeous you are and how you've grown

When she is finished you can:

  • Say: "It's great to see you Aunty Rina"
  • Give her a quick kiss on the cheek (optional for some children)
  • Then you can go back to playing on your computer/reading your book

Aunty Rina will be happy that she has been greeted. You are happy as your child has displayed good behaviour and your child has learned an important social skill which you can help to generalise in to other situations.

Putting this into practice

Practice with family

It's a rule in our house that everyone is greeted when they arrive home even if they have been out for only a short time. This was how we managed to create an atmosphere whereby all our visitors were greeted when they arrived at the front door. We practised every time even when we were tired! The dog was also greeted (although I think she secretly loves to greet anybody anyway!)

Shaking hands as a greeting

If the person with ASD absolutely abhors being touched and hugged, you can teach him the skill of "shaking hands" as a greeting. However don't forget to teach Aunty Rina that he/she only likes to shake hands as a greeting! We need to ensure that we teach the AS person to have a firm but not too tight grip and to only shake once. Some younger people with ASD like to shake hard and lots of times!

Shaking hands as a greeting is a skill that they can use in most areas of their life where it will be appreciated by the receiver of the hand shake.

It is also an important skill for our children to learn if we are looking for them to become independent and to find work. It looks good in interviews and this presentation issue may be the difference between getting the job or not.

Good luck putting this into practice. It does work with a little patience, perseverance and lots of practice.

Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress

Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress

  1. Thou shalt NOT be perfect, nor even try to be.
  2. Thou shalt NOT try to be all things to all people.
  3. Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done.
  4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thinly.
  5. Thou shalt learn to say 'NO'
  6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and thy supportive network.
  7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly
  8. Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
  9. Thou shalt not even feel guilty
  10. Especially, thou shalt NOT be thine own worst enemy, but be thy best friend.

Creating Opportunities for Hugs

Many ASD people find touch difficult. Light touch and light massage can help to make them reach sensory overload quite quickly. They much prefer a firm touch and/firm massage.

As a mother it would upset me when my son didn't respond to my hugs and actively tried to get away. He would struggle and sometimes kick or hit me. Then there were times when he would actively seek me out and give me a hug that was so tight that I couldn't breathe.

It was after I noticed this pattern that I came up with an idea that I just had to try. I noticed that he liked firm hugs on his terms. From all my reading about Asperger's I knew that he needed to be warned ahead of time of things that might impact on his sensory sensitivities. One of these was light touch. It always sent him into some inappropriate behaviour when anyone touched him too lightly.

"Mothers need hugs to be beautiful"

And so was born the phrase: mothers need hugs to be beautiful. He knew that when he heard these words I was going to give him a firm hug. It wasn't so much the sentiment behind the words that worked, but more so the advance warning. I was preparing him for the touch that was about to happen and he could prepare himself for the sensory stimulation that was about to happen.

"But you're already beautiful"

Sometimes he would reply "but you're already beautiful!" which meant that he could not be touched. As a mum this was difficult for me but I needed to respect his wishes.

Something that surprised me was when he began to use the same phrase back to me. He would use it when he needed to be hugged extra tight.

When my son was stressed or in the middle of sensory overload he searched for places that were small or tight. (In the dryer, tightly wound in a doona or sheet, piled pillows on top of himself) I think that he realized that a tight hug would help to calm him.


Sometimes my son would initiate wrestling with my husband. This always involved rolling around on the floor with weight alternating on top and underneath. We found that sometimes when his behaviours were unmanageable a good wrestle would help to calm and quiet him.


At first the hugs were one sided with me doing the hugging. When he was used to that I started to bring his arms around me. The next step was to make his arms put pressure around my body. So with my hands on his arms I would gently but firmly squeeze his arms around me.

After a while I told my son that a proper hug needed two people to use their arms to squeeze. He seemed to understand this and began to hug back.

It was fantastic the day that my son initiated a proper hug and it was breath taking, but in a great way! A day I'll never forget because:

"Mothers do need hugs to be beautiful"


Transition to Secondary School

It's always helpful for the student to have a transition programme in place when entering secondary school

Essential Tips for the School

  • Conduct a transition meeting between the new and old school.
  • Identify a team of individuals at the school who may act as 'safe persons'.
  • Plan an individual orientation schedule for the student.
  • Schedule dates and content of training for individual teachers to understand Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Training should include:
    • Overview of characteristics.
    • Information on specific behavioural, academic and emotional concerns of the student..
  • Include all relevant teachers, counsellors, administrators, office staff or anyone who will come in contact with the student.
  • Provide training on how to implement the strategies determined during the transition meeting.
  • Have a photo of the student in the staff room that explains important strategies to use with the student. For example: when the student is stressed don't ask too many questions. Use the summary profile included in this book.

Essential Tips for the Student

  • Attend the new school one day per week during the transition period.
  • Make a collage of pictures/names of people the student will encounter such as:
    • School secretary
    • Principal
    • Librarian
    • Special Needs/Inclusion Teacher
    • Tuckshop convenor
    • Groundsman
  • Discuss the rules, games and etiquette the student can expect at the school.
  • Explain what to expect from teachers regarding appropriate behaviour: For example:
    • Classroom manners
    • Punctuality
    • Respect
    • Cooperation
  • Find out where the calm/safe places are.
  • Have an example of a timetable (walk the timetable with the student).
  • Have a map of the school to familiarise himself with the grounds. Mark in:
    • Out of bounds areas
    • Toilets
    • Library etc.
  • Introduce a high school diary and get them to practice using this. Most school have spare diaries or photocopy a week of pages to use.
  • Where possible allow the student to meet some of the relevant teachers and school personnel he will be associating with.
  • Encourage a "buddy" system for the student.

Anna Tullemans School TransitionsThe following is an example of a transition profile found in the book The Essential Guide to Successful Secondary School.

Use this link to download a printable version of this 3-page profile. The profile is in Adobe PDF format - if you do not have Adobe Reader or Acrobat Reader, download it from Adobe's site using this link)

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