Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are just that, individual. Much like every other person, students on the spectrum have their own unique qualities and challenges. Students on the end of the spectrum that we have historically categorized as having Asperger’s Syndrome, many of whom we see on college campuses, typically have a desire to interact in social situations, but are faced with some unique difficulties.
Students on the spectrum tend to have a great deal more difficulty with social interactions, social exchanges, and social cues.
College courses, at least at the undergraduate level, tend to be larger with more students. This provides a great environment for most students to socially interact and make more friends, but it can be more challenging for the student who is on the spectrum. It’s often hard for these students to enter into conversations and to exit conversations.
This is also true for students who need to interact with their instructors; initiating a conversation or interaction may be difficult for a student on the spectrum. There may be issues with personal space as well, that is, the student enters another student’s or the instructor’s personal space coming too close when trying to have a conversation.
This space invasion can be quite uncomfortable. Some students on the spectrum have limited awareness of the space that he or she is entering, but conversely, know clearly when others are entering into their personal space. The thing about personal space is that it really is unique to each individual, but you, as an instructor may need to gently point out to the student that you need to have a bit more space. A general rule of thumb is to maintain at least an arm’s length of distance between individuals, and it’s okay to suggest that to the student.
As a side note, there are other students not on the spectrum who don’t have a good sense of personal space either, so this same conversation is just as useful.
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