Q. What is High Functioning Autism?
Autism, a spectrum disorder that varies in degree from mild to severe with a wide range of needs. Those on the high functioning end have average to high intelligence and may in fact have exceptional skills (e.g. memory, music, art or math) but have a range of difficulties that vary by individual. These can include:
- problems recognizing the nuances of social interaction;
- difficulty understanding other's feelings or emotions (but once aware will have an appropriate degree of compassion);
- inability to maintain reciprocal (give and take) conversation;
- extreme literal use and interpretation of language;
- unusual speech patterns: repetitive speech, abnormal tone and/or volume, irrelevant remarks, stilted/formal manner, tendency to lecture others;
- easily upset by changes in routine;
- rigid, ritualistic behavioral patterns;
- fixation on one subject or object;
- repetitive movements, thoughts and/or speech, emotional sensitivity and under/overreaction fears and anxiety;
- hyper/hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli (sounds, light, taste, touch, odors, pain);
- physical awkwardness;
- problems with spatial awareness.
Students with these traits can thrive in an academically rigorous environment provided they are given the supports they need, including explicit instruction in the social and emotional skills they lack. It is also very important that they have the ability to practice these skills with children who do not have the same difficulties.
Q. How does the specialized program at NCSH address the needs of a student with ASD?
- The Classroom: Classrooms with ASD students are small. In kindergarten the classes include 4-5 students with ASD and 8-10 other students. From first grade on, classes contain 4-6 students with ASD and 12-14 other students.
- Trained Staff: There are two teachers in each classroom, both of whom are trained by experts in the most promising research-based strategies to support ASD students.
- Individualized behavior supports: Teachers use strategies such as individual schedules and visual timers, adaptive materials and equipment, relaxation training and movement breaks to help students regulate their behavior. In addition, teachers provide instruction in research-based alternative methods of communicating and coping in the classroom, including use of appropriate language and self-monitoring and self-management skills. Positive reinforcement is extensively used.
- Instructional techniques: Teachers address difficulties with understanding abstract concepts and figurative language by using such techniques as visual supports to help students concretize concepts, individual task-sequencing boards to break down the steps of complex assignments and teacher self-talk, modeling their thinking out loud.
- Social Skills Program: ASD students have a 45-minute Social Skills Program (SSP) class every day in kindergarten and three times a week in the higher grades. In these classes, taught by a speech and language pathologist, students are instructed in pragmatic language, academic and social problem-solving, social cognition, flexibility and self-regulation. SSP classes also promote engagement and interaction among ASD students and provide tools for engaging with non-ASD classmates. The classroom teachers are also trained in the SSP curriculum which allows them to promote generalization of the skills students are learning in the pull-out classes and facilitate interactions among students in the classroom and at lunch and recess.
Q. Are students with ASD in separate classes?
No. Students with ASD are fully included. Classes with ASD students are small and have two teachers, a general education teacher and a special education teacher.
Q. How do I know if my child has high-functioning autism?
If you suspect that your child has high-functioning autism, and you would like to apply for our ASD program, please call Lindsey Mattingly, Director of Special Education, at 646-701-7117. We have a free identification program that starts with a simple questionnaire. If necessary, your child may be referred for testing to our partners at YAI.