Finding a good "Asperger school" that is capable of helping a child with Asperger syndrome (AS) thrive is much easier now than it was in decades past. Recent advances in diagnosing and treating the disorder have enabled many institutions to tailor their curriculums and campuses to the needs of the AS student.
How is an Asperger School Different?
The challenge of developing a teaching program that will appeal to a wide variety of students with Aspergers is a difficult one. On the one hand, the faculty needs to be flexible enough to adapt to varying learning styles and strategies. Some students have no problem taking a test - if they are able to walk around their desk during it. Others may need to have some kind of tactile stimulation such as a squeeze ball in order to effectively study. The symptoms and qualities of Aspergers Syndrome vary widely, and the teachers need to be able to adapt to that.
On the other hand, students who have autism spectrum disorders tend to function much better with a steady routine and clear-cut expectations and boundaries. This requires a special kind of campus, with not only a place and time for everything but as much as possible, clear expectations of the students and teachers alike.
The fact is many schools have the ability to be an Asperger school simply by educating both the teachers and the fellow students about the disorder. There have been many successful stories of integrating students with Aspergers Syndrome into the "normal" classroom environment, and the benefits are not only for the individual child but also for the group as a whole. With the help of other specialists such as speech therapists and techniques such as applied behavioral analysis, the student with Aspergers school experience can be extremely effective and beneficial.
Schools Designed Specifically for Aspergers Syndrome
Many schools are specifically designed to provide environments that cater to the needs of children with learning capabilities similar to Aspergers. These tend to be designed around more sensory-oriented teaching techniques. An example from the Leelanau School in Michigan is a student who may be able to sink three-pointers on the basketball court, but have trouble focusing on traditional math. They recognize that the student has an innate grasp of trajectory and an affinity for sports, so the teacher will focus on using team stats and court diagrams to teach the basic concepts.
While this may seem to be an obvious kind of a strategy, being able to identify and implement these kinds of learning strategies are what make an Asperger school more effective for many children. Another well-known school is the Orion Academy in California. It provides an environment focused on the safety and comfort of the students, with a focus on "remediating motoric, social, emotional, and visual-spatial deficits." The Orion Academy prides itself on providing a unique institution with other proven techniques for effectively educating their students, such as six-week sessions, individualized study programs, and more.
On the other side of the country there is Southeast Journeys in North Carolina. This immersive environment is designed for high-functioning autism students as well as being an Asperger school. The organization takes pride in providing students who may have had difficulty in other schools with a more suitable learning experience while at the same time providing the kids with tools for future endeavors, such as social awareness, independent action, and self-motivated desire for learning. The program is also fully integrated into the information age, with parents able to follow and connect with their children "in the field" through the Internet.
Locating More Programs
By making use of support groups online and off, parents and care providers can locate an Asperger school suitable to their location, means, and the needs of their children. One place to start is the Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (O.A.S.I.S) page, which lists camps and schools all over the United States.
The best thing about an Asperger school is that the focus of the educational environment is where it should be: on the needs of that individual child, filled with potential and hope for the future.