Supporting Twice-Exceptional (2e) Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Understanding challenges and building on strengths for students with autism
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Twice-exceptional (2e) students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have high abilities. But they may also have challenges with, for example, interacting with others.
Each student with ASD is unique and may need individualized help. Listed below are some common challenges of 2e students with autism. Being aware of these challenges can help schools and teachers offer supports.
Good social interaction requires recognizing the emotions of yourself and others, then responding in a socially acceptable manner. This process can be challenging for a student with ASD in many situations, such as during the following:
- instructional time,
- unfamiliar or unstructured situations (e.g., transitions, lunch, recess, extra-curricular activities), and
- when working in groups.
It's important to help 2e students with social skills.
Suggestions for Addressing Social Skills:
- Make the classroom a respectful and safe learning space that promotes inclusion and sensitivity to differences.
- Use strengths and interests in structured, cooperative learning experiences.
- Provide step-by-step directions and strategies to build skills in using social interactions (e.g., age-appropriate social stories, role playing, practice reading and labeling facial expressions and body language, perspective-taking). Capitalize on teachable moments and provide feedback to the student after a social interaction occurs.
- Create opportunities for social connection through lunch bunches, clubs, and buddy programs. Practice having social conversations by using conversation starters and teaching turn taking.
Response to Environmental Stimuli
Twice-exceptional students with autism may have difficulty planning, organizing, and completing tasks, as well as with social-emotional regulation.
Suggestions for Addressing Environmental Stimuli:
- Teach students strategies to support planning and organizing (e.g., practice routines, time management skills, use charts and calendars, agreed upon nonverbal signals and prompts, model new skills and provide frequent feedback).
- Consider options for students who need support processing environmental stimuli (e.g., during lunch, PE, assemblies).
- Allow students breaks for self-regulating behaviors, such as fidgeting, pacing, listening to music, or discussing their “off topic” interests.
- Positive behavioral support, combined with non-punitive, predictable responses and encouragement, are essential for these students who are working hard to maintain emotional control.
Need for Predictability/Rigid Thinking
Twice-Exceptional students with ASD may be inflexible in their thinking and may have difficulty coping with unexpected events such as changes in schedules.
Suggestions for Addressing Need for Predictability:
- Understand that inflexibility may be related to anxiety, not stubbornness. Look for solutions that prevent power struggles.
- Some students with autism may benefit from direct, explicit teaching of flexibility skills.
- Visual aids with schedules and prompts can help students with transitions and upcoming stressful events.
- Provide positive feedback when students demonstrate flexibility.
Twice-exceptional students with ASD may experience anxiety, which can affect classroom performance as much as a learning disability.
Potential sources of anxiety may include a perceived lack of control over the environment, changes in routines, difficulty processing stimuli in the environment, phobias, fear of failure, and past traumatic experiences at school and with peers.
Awareness of potential sources of anxiety and building a student’s ability to cope and self-advocate are key for ensuring a student is available for learning.
Suggestions for Addressing Anxiety:
- Teach students skills for adapting to change and solving day-to-day problems as they occur (e.g., changes in schedules, assemblies, fire drills).
- Provide strategies to support transitions (e.g., timers, visual schedules, visual or verbal cues)
- Build student capacity to recognize and respond when feeling anxious (e.g. self-regulation techniques, deep or slow breathing).
- Teach students skills to proactively seek assistance and self-advocate.
Severe anxiety may lead to chronic absenteeism, school phobia, school refusal, or dropping out (US Dept. of Ed, 2013-14). Parents and schools should be alert to changes in the 2e student’s emotional state and address them as appropriate. School counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers can provide parents with referrals to outside agencies when necessary.
Parents may also wish to consult with their insurance providers and community agencies to find resources.
For additional information, see FCPS Mental Health and Resiliency.
Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2018). Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention. New York: Guilford Press.
Hughes-Lynch, C. E. (2010). Children with high-functioning autism: A parent’s guide. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Silverman, S. (2014). School success for kids with high-functioning autism. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.