Many people with Aspergers have difficulty with focusing and concentration for a variety of reasons. Children with Aspergers may experience sensory overstimulation, become overwhelmed or frustrated with schoolwork or not be engaged enough with the material to want to focus on it. Often, parents of such children wonder whether medication would help their children focus.
The decision whether to medicate or not is a personal decision that should be made by parents with the help of their pediatrician and any specialists they see who have expertise in autistic spectrum differences. Here are some of the accommodations that may help children with Aspergers focus, with or without medication:
- Moving the child to a quieter area of the classroom. If the child has sensory issues that are distracting him or her, a quiet corner that has less distractions can often aid in focus. Children with Aspergers may also benefit from wearing earplugs or headphones while working to block out other sounds.
- Giving the child modified worksheets and assignments that have fewer problems or questions per page and larger type to get his or her attention.
- Playing into the child’s obsessive interests whenever possible. For example, if a child with Aspergers is obsessed with baseball, parents or teachers can use baseball scores to teach math, read books about baseball to practice reading and look on the map to see where favorite teams are playing to practice U.S. geography. This keeps the child interested, making it more likely that he or she will focus.
- Using a rewards chart and rewarding the child for remaining in his or her seat, focusing on work for a certain period of time or completing assignments.
- Using a timer with large numbers to help the child know how much longer her or she is expected to focus for.
- Working with the child one-on-one.
This is only a partial list of accommodations. Not all accommodations work with every child, but with some creativity and resourcefulness, you can figure out methods that work well with your child.
What to Do If A Teacher Recommends Medication
Unfortunately, many mainstream classrooms are overcrowded, making it difficult for teachers to give your child the one-on-one help or other accommodations he or she needs. As a result, teachers may sometimes recommend you take your child to the doctor and look into medication without considering other accommodations.
Keep in mind that most teachers are not doctors–only your pediatrician and/or autism specialist can decide whether medication is a viable option for your child. In addition, your child has the right to accommodations if he or she needs them in order to learn successfully.
If a teacher is concerned about your child’s ability to focus and suggests medication, the best thing to do is ask to observe the classroom. That way, you can see exactly what your child is doing that concerns the teacher and what the teacher is doing to try to help.
Remember that the purpose of observation is not to “catch” the teacher doing something you don’t like. Teachers and parents can and should be on the same side: helping your child succeed academically and socially. So when you observe, your goals should be to see what your child’s behaviors of concern are and to work with the teacher to improve the situation.
Be as unobtrusive as possible when you observe. Sit in the back of the room or another location that is not near your child. You want to do your best not to influence your child’s behavior. Take notes but don’t interact directly with your child or the teacher during instructional time.
After you have observed, make an appointment to talk with the teacher about what you noticed. Solicit the teacher’s opinions about what was going on in the classroom and then share your thoughts. Try to brainstorm solutions together.
It may also be a good idea to ask for an IEP meeting after you finish your observations. That way, you can discuss your thoughts with the teacher, administrators and other professionals that work with your child. You can get the accommodations you think are best put directly into the IEP and can also create a behavioral intervention plan–a part of the IEP that explains how to address problematic behaviors and what behavioral goals you hope to help your child reach.
After doing all this work, you should be in a better position to decide whether you need to pursue medication for your child to help him or her succeed. Regardless of what you decide, you’ll know exactly what your child is doing and what you want to help him or her do so that you can discuss medication more realistically with your doctor.
I am not a medical doctor and cannot determine whether your child needs medication, but I CAN help you figure out strategies for helping your child succeed that you feel comfortable with. Please contact me if you are interested in one-on-one coaching.