Stress is a normal part of the daily classroom experience for children. Most children have natural coping mechanisms that allow them to deal with stress and keep it from building up. A child with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the other hand, frequently does not have these kinds of coping mechanisms. Instead, children dealing with this disorder find that they are singularly ill equipped to handle the stress that suddenly seems to grow by leaps and bounds. In the private school setting there may be ways to work around stressful events, but in the public school setting all bets at private attention are off.
Coping mechanisms for Asperger’s Syndrome children in the public classroom are a much needed skill and since these children are their own worst enemies because of their inability to deal with changes in routines and quickly shifting situations, the groundwork for stress and the inability to cope with it are laid. Expression of stress usually takes on one or more of three possible avenues:
1. Depression over failing grades, inability to make friends, or simply a lack of stability.
2. Rage at other children and because of insufficient academic prowess.
3. Apathy that makes it impossible for the child to snap out of their inertia and deal with the issue that require attention.
Coping mechanism are designed to help a child with Asperger’s Syndrome before she or he experiences any of these problems. While it would be optimistic to charge a child with the responsibility for making better choices in the public classroom setting and for dealing with the rage and anger they may be experiencing, it is actually up to the teacher to present the kind of classroom that makes it possible for the child to do well.
The teacher should start by setting up the kind of learning environment that is well organized, structured, and not given to sudden upheaval. Avoid surprising changes and off-the-wall changes of pace need at all costs. Foreseeable transitions and established routines should dominate the learning experience. Parents or caregivers need to work with the children on establishing coping mechanisms when they feel the pressure building.
These coping mechanisms include three quick breaths, slow counting on their fingers, and even journaling for a brief period of time. For children who are really and deeply upset, the use of a comforting ritual is often the best course of action. This ritual may include the reading of a certain passage, folding a piece of paper into an origami shape or even devoting some time to personal hygiene. While none of these coping mechanisms make the stress causing factor go away, they all serve to prevent the exhibition of inappropriate coping skills, such as a raised voice, a temper tantrum, or withdrawal from activities and peers.
Even as the public classroom is woefully limited in the ways it can help a child with Asperger’s Syndrome to deal with the demands of a stressful day, the skilled teacher still has many abilities to make the entire experience more bearable for the child.
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