Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has great variability in how it presents, and each student will have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Symptoms can range from very mild to more intrusive. People with the syndrome are likely to have the same range of intellectual skills as the rest of the population, although some of their other characteristics may impede their access to a college education. Consequently, it will be helpful for those unfamiliar with the Syndrome to become more familiar with common concerns in order to improve the opportunity for these students to succeed in the college environment.
Common issues include challenges with social interactions and communications and a pattern of intensely focused and repeated interests and activities. Understanding social cues and nonverbal communications and the feelings of others may cause difficulty in relationships, and may put the individual at risk for being misunderstood. Because social interaction is so intrinsic to the way most teaching and learning takes place, difficulties in the area of social interaction can significantly impair academic performance.
Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome often have above average intelligence and may have very advanced vocabularies in particular topics. Speech may sound quite formal or stilted, tone or volume may be unusual, and back and forth conversations may be difficult. Instead, they may feel more comfortable talking at length about a topic that is of great interest to them. Often, someone diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome has a very intense interest in one or two activities and even if those are activities typical for their age group, they are pursued with an intensity that may be daunting to peers and may interrupt the student’s motivation for doing academic work not related to these topics. Slang, humor, and sarcasm may be difficult to understand, and non-verbal communication and cues may be missed. Difficulty understanding or communicating feelings is possible, as well as difficulty predicting others' behavior, all of which make any group work a challenge. A change in routine or in the environment (like rearranging dorm room furniture or a canceled class) may also pose a significant challenge.
Strengths may include extensive factual information, advanced vocabulary in some areas, exceptional memory for detail, original and creative thought patterns, attention to detail and precision, and ability to study independently. Challenges may include difficulty with abstract thought, problem solving, organization, and making inferences, difficulty adapting to change, a tendency to take language literally, and sensitivity to sensory stimuli unperceived by “neurotypicals."
Some adjustments to teaching strategies may help the student with Asperger’s Syndrome succeed more readily.