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Providing an inclusive primary classroom for students who ha

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Nicole Esler

on 29 September 2013

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Transcript of Providing an inclusive primary classroom for students who ha

Providing an inclusive primary classroom for students who have Asperger's Syndrome (AS).
What is Asperger's Syndrome (AS)?
Ashman and Elkins (2012) define Asperger’s Syndrome as “A form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) characterised by difficulties in social interaction and by restricted, stereotyped interests and activities” (p. 65). They go on to explain that Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a diagnostic label that is becoming increasingly familiar in schools. Therefore it is imperative that teachers understand the potential barriers there may be in including students who have AS into classrooms. In understanding the potential barriers however, there is a need to be aware of the characteristics a child who has AS may bring to the classroom.
Asperger’s Syndrome characteristics (Attwood, 2013):
A delay in social maturity and social reasoning,
Trouble making friends and can often teased by other children,
Struggle to communicate and control their emotions,
Advanced vocabulary and syntax, but hindered conversational skills,
Intense fascination or focus with a particular topic that may be considered unusual by others (e.g. Padlocks, wheels etc.)
Struggles with organisational and self-help skills therefore requiring help from others,
May have a clumsy way of walking and struggle with coordination,
Sensory issues, such as a sensitivity to smells, textures, sounds, tastes and touch.
Barriers to inclusion
As part of our research for this presentation, we conducted an anonymous poll in an online community of parents of children who have Asperger’s Syndrome. When analysing the results, it became apparent that many of the earlier presented symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome are seen as barriers for inclusion of these children in an educational context. Particularly social development, as Ashman and Elkins (2012) state “children who have Asperger’s Syndrome need guidance in making and maintaining friendships, working in a team on a project, and being protected from social predators” (p. 160). Sensory issues and a general lack of understanding of AS by the child’s peers and teachers were also highly acknowledged by the parents participating in the poll.

Nicole Esler, Jordyn Whittington & Katie Spring
Wrong Fit
He is not the same, who’s to blame?
Because he is not the same, pushed to the side, prodded and poked.
Bring out mould 6, that should do the trick, oh NO!
He’s not the same, now 23 and 32, didn’t fit him at all, what a shame…
Bring out general fit 42, that one should fit you, like a trick.
This is quite INSANE, he is not the same!

Written by Robin Felton-Taylor (2013), in the hopes of exploring and explaining some of the aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Sensory Issues
"Noise levels - my
8 year old doesn't cope
at all with noise".
"Other students not
having a full
understanding of
their needs".
"The biggest issue with
my 9 year old is he
doesn't have a friend.
There are a few kids
that tolerate him".
Once we understood what some of the more prevalent barriers were, we referred back to the content offered to us in this unit and looked more closely at the universal design for learning or ‘UDL’ (Boyle & Topping, 2012), to help inform our strategies.
What is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
Ashman and Elkins (2012) defined the Universal Design of Learning as:

“A set of principles for designing curriculum that provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn. Teachers plan for the needs of all learners by creating tasks in which all students can participate and demonstrate their learning. Then, if a new student joins the class, the teacher does not need to go back and “retrofit” the lesson to accommodate that student’s needs”
(Pg. 405).

The UDL at a glance...
The UDL's three primary principles
Boyle and Topping (2012) explain that the UDL “provides equal access to all by removing the barriers to knowledge and learning without diminishing the challenges” (page 90). This approach does this through the application of three primary principles; representation, engagement and expression.
Representation is using different ways of presenting essential concepts (e.g. video clips, oral presentations). Engagement is work that is designed to cater for the students’ different “skill levels, preferences and interests (e.g. different reading capabilities or experiences)” (page 90); and expression is the “inclusion of alternative means of expression that allow the students to demonstrate mastery in various ways (e.g. via oral, written or multimedia presentations)” (page 90).

The UDL's
Boyle and Topping (2012) explain the seven features of teaching and learning as:

Equitable use: having the same technology and resources available to be used by everyone.
Flexible use: having the same technology and resources to be used for a range of purposes – social/language/arithmetic.
Simple and intuitive application: everyone knows how to do it – search in the web for information, find a book in the library.
Perceptible information: the technology communicates information to the user regardless of their capabilities.
Tolerance for error: the learning process includes recovery processes when errors occur.
Low physical effort: the teaching process is accessible to students with sensory or mobility impairments.
Size and space: the learning space accommodates students with particular needs.

features of teaching and learning
Features of classroom application
Boyle and Topping (2012) explore the idea that the UDL is about using tools and resources that are usable by all students in a classroom, with an emphasis on information and computer technology. They outline seven features that relate to classroom application. These are:

Inclusiveness: a classroom environment that respects and values diversity.
Physical access: classrooms, resources and equipment that are accessible to all students.
Delivery methods: employment of varied delivery methods.
Information access: use of different technology such as captioned videos, electronic documents.
Interaction: different ways in which teachers and learners interact.
Feedback: effective and timely prompting feedback.
Demonstration of knowledge: multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

(Boyle & Topping, 2012, p.91)

Overcoming social barriers
Overcoming social barriers
Children with AS can find interacting with others difficult, particularly when it comes to reading and understanding body language, sarcasm, and jokes. Using the UDL’s representation principle, it is important to provide students with different methods to obtain understanding in these areas. This can be done through the use of emotion cards, which visually depict faces and body language. Another strategy to represent different social situations is through role play in classrooms by modeling real life scenarios with the students. Participating in hands-on activities such as these will assist children such as 'J' from our case study, who have AS in remembering these social cues, therefore they may be able to apply what they have learnt in social situations/interactions both inside and outside of the classroom. In this way the teacher is facilitating learning by offering a visual way of understanding, after all as Boyle and Topping (2012) explain, “representation is using different ways of presenting essential concepts” (pg. 90).

Incorporating the use of role play within the classroom is an engaging way of presenting strategies which may assist 'J' as well as other students in different social situations.

Using emotion cards (example provided in image) with students is another valuable resource for presenting social images to children with AS (Williams, 2012).

Overcoming sensory barriers
Children who have AS may sometimes struggle with sensory stimuli. Noises may seem louder and consuming, lights may seem brighter than they appear to others and they may choose to chew/suck/feel particular items for the texture or otherwise avoid touching certain things . As Menzinger and Jackson (2009) explain “Children with Asperger syndrome often have a very complex and disturbed sensory relationship with the world and themselves, which will inevitably cause anxiety, frustration and fear; this can result in very strong behavioural responses” (p. 170). This is why it is so important to understand and care for those students like 'J' who have sensory issues. Providing a quiet safe place for children to go to when they feel stressed or overwhelmed, can allow them time to calm down and may assist in avoiding overstimulation.

In this space the teacher could provide resources for children to block out overwhelming experiences, e.g. headphones (to block noise), pillows (to scream into), a blanket (to wrap themselves in), soft toys (to cuddle) and could make the safe place a bit darker by providing a child's play tent or something similar.

Sensory barriers
A teacher may incorporate the UDL in their classroom planning by adapting the curriculum so it suits a classroom that is designed to:

Provide a quiet space for children
when the noise/light/stimuli becomes
too much.

Opting to use natural light may
resolve any sensory distress caused
for a child by fluorescent lighting
typically used in classrooms or
conversely using curtains to dull
a room that may be too bright and

By limiting the amount of colourful
displays in the classroom as this may
prove overwhelming or distracting for students.

The UDL is about accommodating for everyone in the classroom by using the three primary principles. When accommodating for a child with AS, like our case study child 'J', a teacher must ensure that classroom displays are still visually enticing but are not overly bright and distracting as this can be a trigger for that particular child. Also, when children are using technology within the classroom, as emphasised by the UDL (Boyle & Topping, 2012), minimising sensory discomfort with sounds can be achieved with the use of headphones.
Assisting 'understanding by others'
It is important in an inclusive classroom, “a classroom environment that respects and values diversity” (Boyle & Topping, 2012, pg.91), to build understanding for not only children who have AS, but also their families, the other students and the teacher themselves. Children who have AS may have an intensity of sameness, (only one AS trait which may be seen as different by others) which is where they rely on strict routines and procedures of their daily activities. According to the UDL's principle of representation, teachers could assist students by providing regular routines and visual representations of routine. Another helpful thing a teacher can do in their classroom is explain to the class that some people like to do things and keep things a certain way and it is important to respect this.

Understanding by others
There are many engaging resources out there for primary aged children that assist teachers (and parents) in introducing AS. There are many picture story books as well as an episode from the television show Arthur (Brown,1996) which we have provided a snippet of. This is an excellent, engaging resource to use in the classroom as according to the UDL, in creating an inclusive classroom teachers need to incorporate tools and information that can be accessed by all (Boyle & Topping, 2012).

Case Study.....
'J' is a seven year old boy in grade two
who has just begun the school year at a new primary school. His parents have advised that 'J' has Asperger's Syndrome and had many difficulties in his last classroom. They also mentioned that they felt that 'J' was left behind as there was no way to accomodate his extra needs in the classroom.
Specifically, 'J' struggles to communicate both in learning groups and socially, and is sensitive to sensory overload (mostly, sound and bright lights) which can cause him to have a 'meltdown', which similar to that of a young child's tantrum but is in fact his way of communicating something is too much for him. 'J' also needs to know the class routines as it helps him to stay focussed and calm in learning situations.
The role of 'J's new teacher is to ensure that his/her classroom is inclusive and accommodating for him. By using the UDL principles when planning for his/her students, there is no need to change any of his/her planned lessons as they will already cater to all of "J"'s academic needs. He/she will however, have to ensure that within the classroom both the teacher and other students in the class are understanding of "J" socially and also in regards to his possible sensory overload.
Ashman, A. & Elkins, J. (2012). Education for Inclusion and Diversity (4th ed). Frenchs Forest, NSW; Pearson Australia.
Attwood, T. (2013). What is Asperger’s Syndrome? Retrieved from: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/index.php/about-aspergers
Boyle, C. & Topping, K. (2012). What Works in Inclusion? (1st ed). Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
Brown, M., Charest, M., Greenwald, C., Deegan, J., Moss, P., Taylor, L., Taylor, T., & Valette, P. (Producers), & Bailey, G. (Director). (1996). Arthur [animated television series]:What is Asperger’s Syndrome?. Toronto, Canada: Cookie Jar Group. Retrieved from
Bullard, H.R. (2004). 20 ways to… Ensure the Successful Inclusion of a child with Asperger Syndrome in the General Education Classroom. Intervention in School and Clinic, 39(3), pp.176-180.
Carrington, S. & Graham, L. (1999). Asperger’s Syndrome: Learner Characteristics and Teaching Strategies. Special Education Perspectives, 8(2), pp. 15-23.
CAST. (2012). Transforming Education through Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from www.cast.org
Chesapeake Bay Academy. (2011). Asperger’s Syndrome Ribbon [Image]. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cba-va.org/blog/bid/71572/A-Parent-s-Perspective-on-Asperger-Syndrome-A-Survive-Thrive-Guide-Part-II
ClipartOf. (2013). Diverse Children Holding Hands [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.clipartof.com/portfolio/prawny/illustration/diverse-children-holding-hands-and-standing-around-the-globe-39644.html
Felton-Taylor, R. (2013). Wrong Fit [Poem].Retrieved from: http://www.cba-va.org/blog/bid/71572/A-Parent-s-Perspective-on-Asperger-Syndrome-A-Survive-Thrive-Guide-Part-II
Kelly @ JAX Décor & Design. (2009). Multicoloured Zebra [Image]. Retrieved from http://design-ties.blogspot.com.au/2009/03/black-with-white-stripes-or-white-with.html
Menzinger, B & Jackson, R.(2009). Asperger Syndrome: The effect of light intensity and noise on the classroom behaviour of pupils with Asperger Syndrome. Support for Learning 24(4), 170-175. doi:101111/j.1467-9604.2009.01420.x
Nobody to play with - The road to understanding Aspergers Syndrome (2013, August, 28). What does your school provide for your child in relation to sensory issues? Noise, space etc [web log post]. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nobody-to-play-with-The-road-to-understanding-Aspergers-Syndrome/217952008236739?fref=ts
Ockner, S. (2012). The five Senses [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.specialeducationadvisor.com/in-home-sensory-items-you-can-create-or-find-for-cheap/
Primary Paradise. (2013). Emotion Cards [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.myprimaryparadise.com/2013/04/01/autism-awareness-linky-and-a-freebie/
The Goldberg Center. (2013). Asperger’s barriers [image]. Retrieved from http://www.edconsult.org/special-education-schools/autism-schools--aspergers-schools/
Tommy. K. (2013). Poem about children with Asperger’s Syndrome and their social awkwardness [image]. Retrieved from http://tallyaspiedad.com/tag/social-awkwardness/
UDLCAST (Producer). (2010). UDL at a glance. Retrieved from
Williams, K. (2001). Understanding the Student with Asperger Syndrome: Guidelines for Teachers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 36(5), pp.287-92.
WebTrends. (2013). Bright Light [Image].Retrieved from http://blogs.webtrends.com/2012/11/shedding-light-on-the-multi-touch-paid-search-funnel/bright-light/
Inclusion of children who have AS, like 'J' into group learning situations may be seen as an obstacle. However, according to the seven features of teaching and learning within the UDL (Boyle & Topping, 2012) the use of technology may very well reduce these barriers. Introducing iPads or laptops into classrooms that are available for all to use whenever necessary, allows information to be communicated to the user no matter their ability. By setting up forums for group learning, for example, 'J' may find it easier to communicate and particpate in group assignments ensuring he is not left behind.
Nobody to play with - the road to understanding Asperger's Syndrome (2013).
Through studies in this unit and our further research for this presentation, we have come to understand the importance of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) within an inclusive classroom. Ashman and Elkins (2012), state that this learning design "provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn" (pg. 51). The UDL caters to everybody reducing barriers for inclusion for not only students who have AS but for all students in that classroom. In catering to all students, it also minimises the workload for teachers as there is no need to alter their planning to cater for students who have additional needs, are new to the classroom or diverse learning styles as this will already have been planned for.

We believe that the UDL is a fantastic approach when aiming to provide an inclusive classroom for not only children who have AS, but for all students within the classroom.
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