Welcome to The Autism Site

What You’ll Find Here


Often parents are hanging on by their nails, whether their child has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, or when they’re wondering if there is something different about the way their child is developing. After a long day of work and child rearing and household chores, who has time to pour through internet sites or study a heavy textbook?

Teachers feel the same way. They’re with kids all day, then in evenings there is marking and lesson plans to prepare and maybe even hope for a personal life. Reading a weighty tome is the last thing on their minds.

But learning need not be tedious. What if you could read a novel, get lost in the story and learn strategies at the same time? Strategies that can be used at home and at school. What if you read about real families living with the challenges of autism and working together with their schools?

At The Autism Site you can learn about three such books, each depicting a different child with autism, different challenges and different strengths. The first book became an award-winning Amazon bestseller.


At The Autism Site, we understand. We get it when you’re unsure, frustrated and frightened. Been there, done that. Check out the About Us page to learn more. Then, browse through our pages of questions and strategies. Drop us a note and Dr. Mitchell will get back to you.

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Failing Everything at School


Failing all subjects

Jim is in grade 9. While he seems bright and verbally skilled, he’s failing all subjects. He rarely hands in assignments. He constantly loses things. He denies that he’s disorganized and refuses all suggestions and assistance. He insists on doing things the same way, even when what he’s doing obviously is not working. Half the time he’s furious with the adults in his life and resenting that they’re always trying to make him do things.


Just how blunt are you when you talk to him? If you’re subtle or indirect, he might not take in your meaning. And how much talking do people do to him? In general, when a student is messing up, we as educators talk to him. And the less the kid responds or seems to get it, the more we talk to clarify and make our point. This does not work well at all with kids with autism because of their auditory processing weakness. In fact, the more we talk, the less sinks in and the more agitated/frozen/dug-in they usually become.

The best description of this I know of is in Donna William’s book, Somebody, Somewhere.  It’s a fascinating read, almost like reading a novel. Donna wrote when she was in in her 30’s, she has autism, a B.Ed. degree and is extremely articulate in describing things from her point of view.

When a kid seems bright enough and speaks well, we often forget about the auditory processing problem and use oral language as the way to communicate. While it is one way, it’s not the most effective especially in emotionally charged situations when the student’s ability to understand what he hears will go way, way down. Read Donna William’s descriptions. You’ll enjoy it.

The one thing I’d do with Jim is use visuals. Tons of visuals. Always. He’ll get information from something he can see so much easier than if he’s expected to learn by listening.

Author and presenter Linda Hodgins has created a workshop on using visuals for behaviour problems. Click on the title to take a look. It’s available in DVD or VCR format and called Visual Strategies Workshop.

Linda also has two excellent, easy-to-use books: Solving Behavior Problems in Autism and Visual Strategies for Improving Communication.

Another video you might find helpful is Visual Supports in the Classroom for Students with Autism and Related Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

I’ve found this reference useful:  Higher Functioning Adolescents and Young Adults With Autism: A Teacher’s Guide.

A helpful book is Autism in Adolescents and Adults.  You might not need to read it all right away, just browse at first. It’s a simple book where one page describes a problem or behavior and the next gives a suggestion (mainly visual suggestions).

A fair proportion of all kids with autism suffer from depression in the teen years. In adolescents depression most frequently comes out as anger rather than acting morose. That might be part of what you’re seeing.

And, it can look a lot like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or co-exist with OCD. People with autism tend to be rigid in their thinking and behavior. Because of their neurological differences, it can be hard for them to gather information from their environment, process, store and retrieve it when they need those facts. This makes it difficult for them to derive meaning from what’s going on, relate it to past experiences and come up with good strategies. When it’s hard to make sense of your world, you cling to what you think you know – hence the rigidity.

Another reason for depression in such kids is that around this age they notice just how different they are from their peers. And for kids with average intelligence, it’s frustrating to think inside that you’re smart but not to be able to get things that the kids around you seem to grasp with ease.

For teens with autism, medication is not at all unusual and can have a positive effect. It might help his mom and the doctor if the school provided checklists of the behaviour that you’re seeing in Jim. If his physician believes that medications may be helpful, there’s a very good chance that he may not get the meds right first try. He’ll need behavioral feedback to assess the dose, timing and if that’s the correct medication as there are a number of possibilities that could help

When you have a spare five minutes with Jim, go to the Do2Learn website and try these short games on emotions and facial expressions with him. I’m betting that he will be unable to correctly identify the facial expressions on these people. If so, that’ll give you a clue about one of the reasons his behaviour escalates.

We derive a lot of information from the facial expressions and body language of others. For the most part, no on teaches us these things – we just pick them up automatically. Not so with most people with autism, PDD and Asperger’s. Rather they need to be taught how to read non-verbal language. There’s a step-by-step short program designed by Dr. Tony Attwood specifically for autism/Asperger’s called, Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Manage Anger  . (I’m assuming that anger is a problem, or that he does not stop to consider his choices before responding).

Another helpful program is Michelle Garcia Winner’s Thinking About You, Thinking About Me.

Despite the fact that your student has autism, Asperger’s of PDD, he’s still a teenager. At his age adolescents are finding their own way, wanting to be independent and make their own decisions. Rebelling to some degree against authority is normal. So in summary, how can you help?

  • Use visuals rather than relying on verbal information
  • Allow him choices within the parameters you set out
  • Enhance his skills at picking up on nonverbal cues
  • Social skills training in managing feelings
  • Teach and model appropriate ways to handle frustration, protest and anger
  • Find ways to get him to “buy in” to what you want him to do by showing him what the long-term result will be
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Should We Move to Find Better Services?


Should we move to find better services for our son who has recently been diagnosed with autism?

Where we live probably isn’t ideal for our son with high functioning autism. Where in the United States or Canada would we find the best services? We’re worried about him now and in the future. We’re willing to do anything to help. Should we move for his sake?


How lucky your son is that the whole family is willing to give up everything and move for his sake. As to which locale would be ideal for your son, well that’s a tough question.

I live in Canada and am more familiar with Canadian educational systems than those in the US. When I spent five days at the Autism Leadership Academy in Fort Lauderdale, I discovered that there are more similarities than differences in how we actually work with kids with autism spectrum disorders.

I would assume that at least in principle, the educational services available for your son should be the same no matter where in the US you live due to the federally legislated IDEA, etc. While on paper, the services should be the same, I realize that the reality may differ.

In Canada, there is no centralized special education system as in the States; each province is responsible for its own. Inclusion is the norm rather than the exception. Below are links to some provinces’ publications regarding students and autism. As I wrote this, all the links were clickable. Please contact me if some do not work for you.

British Columbia – Teaching Students with Autism

Alberta – Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saskatchewan – Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Educators

Manitoba – Implementing Programming for Students with Autism

Ontario – Teaching Community Skills and Behaviors to Students With Autism

Quebec – I was unable to find any English language materials on Quebec’s curriculum as it pertains to students with autism

If anyone knows of a link to this information, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

New Brunswick  and Nova Scotia– Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Newfoundland –Model for the Coordination of Services to Children and Youth with Special Needs

Prince Edward Island – Effectiveness of the Programming and Services for Children with Autism in Prince Edward Island

For information on services throughout the United States, I’d suggest you contact some national organizations such as:

Autism Research Institute

Autism Society of America


Apart from all this research, why exactly to you want to move? If you are seeking the most ideal place in which to raise your son, I’d worry that it may not exist. I’ve talked with families who believe that if only they were in the right place, if only they had the correct teacher aide or special ed teacher, or program, then their child would be “fixed” or “normal”.

Unfortunately, (or not!) while strategies can be learned and kids grow and mature, as Temple Grandin says, “Once autistic, always autistic.” In fact, many articulate adults with autism take great exception to the idea of anyone trying to fix or change them. While they realize they may differ from the general population, they like who they are. You can read some of these views at:

Institute for the Study of Neurologically Typical

Ask an Aspie


It goes without saying, that your son’s well-being is extremely important. But he’s just one person in your family. What if you found what you felt were the ideal set of services for your boy but adequate employment was an issue for the wage earners in your family? Or you were torn between your duty to your child and your responsibility to ill, aging parents residing in another part of the country?

Young adults tend to have minds of their own. Even if you feel you’ve located your family in the perfect location for high school, post-secondary and work opportunities, your son may have different ideas. He may want to go to college elsewhere. He may seek job or school opportunities several States away. He may respect your opinions but still choose to move do make his own decision. (While worried, you’ll be proud that you’ve raised a child who can think for himself and has the confidence and skills to strike out on his own.)

It’s hard to judge a place by the services that are available, because even amid that array of services, many may be things your son does not need. It’s hard to believe that there is that one correct way of working with every person with autism, just as there is no one correct way to teach reading. Each of us is unique. Even though he has autism, there aren’t uniform traits across the spectrum, just tendencies that he may experience to varying degrees. And what your son experiences as a weakness at age eleven may differ from things that may cause him trouble when he’s twenty.

Since the incidence of autism is so prevalent now, most schools have at least some experience with students with autism spectrum disorders. By contacting the State or Provincial Departments of Education, you will gain some idea of their policies regarding children with autism.

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Reading Comprehension Difficulties


I have a student who is in first grade and reads at a high grade 3.5 level . While his level might 3.5 in decoding, his comprehension is next to nothing. Is there some way to still push his reading forward yet address his comprehension issue. My coworkers believe that I should not push him on in his reading level. They said the focus should be on comp. I believe it should be both. I would like to have him continue reading at the level he is challenged at, while addressing his comprehension with books he is familiar with, like Dr. Suess, and ask questions at that level. What do you think?


You and your coworkers both make good points.  A student who can decode well but has little understanding of what he reads may become a good “word caller” but not a proficient reader. At the same time, you need to build on current strengths and what is for this child a success.

I think you’re on the right track, for several reasons.  Everyone needs to feel that they are progressing and students often pay close attention to which level they are reading. So, he could continue to practice his good decoding skills at a challenging level.  A key component of good comprehension is fluency; those children who struggle and stumble over decoding words often lose the meaning of what they are reading because it’s taken them so long to decipher the passage. If your student can decode with ease, that will help his fluency.

When he reads orally to you, does he pay attention to punctuation marks? Pointing out to him the purpose of commas, periods and question marks can help guide him towards getting more meaning out of what he reads.

Since people with Asperger’s and autism tend to be literal and concrete, many such children prefer nonfiction to fiction reading material.  Nonfiction is more straight forward and doesn’t require understanding characters’ emotions or motivations. You might want to work on first building comprehension for nonfiction readings.

At what level of comprehension is he in other areas, such as when you are having class discussions?  Is he at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, able to answer rote questions about who did what or is able to point out patterns, analyse, synthesize, predict and play with the information? It may be easier for this child to tackle such higher order thinking on subjects that keenly interest him rather on topics foreign or those with which he has little personal connection. You might want to increase his skills at responding to such material orally before you ask him to work independently in writing.

Does he like Dr. Suess?  Although entertaining for most children, not all may be able to get past the playing with words and unusual language constructions the rhyming forces. He may not relate easily because people don’t speak the way many of Suess’ characters talk. If he enjoys Suess, then that would be a good place to begin building his comprehension skills, especially with the easier books.  If the nonsense appeals to him, he might also enjoy Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie  or the Amelia Bedelia series

Most good readers make movies or pictures in their minds as they read.  I wonder if your student does.  Since most people with autism spectrum disorders are stronger visually, no matter how verbal they appear he may be better able to make connections to what he reads using visual strategies. A program that guides you in teaching this skill is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® by Nanci Bell.

Some kids with Asperger’s appear highly verbal, especially in their areas of interest, yet can have weak language skills.  Perhaps he’d be able to demonstrate his understanding to you if he didn’t have to use solely his oral or written language skills. Does he like to draw?  Could he make a picture depicting what happened on that page of the story? Rather than printing answers to questions, could he fill out a concept map? The University of Kansas has a series of Strategic Instruction Modules that use visual methods for a teacher to present information and for students to record what they are learning.

Learning strategies that work is key for capable students with autism spectrum disorders. If your child could understand that all stories follow a pattern, he may find fiction less incomprehensible. He could with a story grammar approach, dividing his page into four boxes.  One box would have the heading Setting and he’s print there where and when the story took place. A second box could be labeled Characters and there he’d identify the main character and one or a couple helper characters. The third box might be labeled Problem and here he’d either describe the problem of that story or chapter or draw a picture showing the problem. The fourth box could be titled, What Will Happen Next?  Again, he could respond in words or with a picture.  This could be a whole class or small group, rather than an independent exercise to begin with while he’s developing the skills.

If he enjoys using a computer, there are many sites with either free software downloads or 30 day trial downloads of programs that help you state and organize your ideas visually.  Here are just a few:

Mind Mapping


Smart Ideas

Visual Mind

Metacognition is a crucial part of successful reading. We often take it for granted that students are intuitively picking up these skills since they are so much apart of us as adult, good readers.  Social skills and language pragmatics are things many kids with autism and Asperger’s do not learn automatically or with ease. (They share this weakness with many children with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and other such neurological disorders). Metacognition involves thinking about how we think.  If you don’t stop to reflect while you’re reading, little of what you read sticks in your mind. If you’re not processing the material as you read, you tend to carry right on when you misread because the glaring discord of nonsensical words doesn’t penetrate. It’s harder to maintain interest and to store the material in your mind if you don’t make connections to what you’re reading.  Click here and here for a metacognitive guidelines that can help guide children in the reading process. And no, you do not need to work in education to help your child increase his metacognition skills.

Metacognitive skills need to be modeled and practiced.  It’s OK while reading aloud to a class to stop yourself and say, “That didn’t make sense. I’d better read that sentence again.”  After rereading the passage, continue with, “Oh, yes.  Now I get it. That’s talking about…. I remember when… That makes me think about…”  It’s useful for kids to hear the kinds of self-talk we use inside our heads to help us make meaning of what we’re reading.

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Autism and Homework

My child has problems completing school work


My 12 year old son is mainstreamed at middle school (which he started this year). However, he is having significant problems in completing and turning in his work. We have separate folders for each class with two pockets (one side for completed assignments to be turned in and one side for works in progress), but this system is not working – he just throws everything in the front of the binder. He does not want a check list on his binder as he doesn’t want to be different from the other kids. As with most Aspies = he already gets picked on for being “different.” Any suggestions for getting him better organized? Thanks!


Things change in middle school, don’t they?

The organizational strategies (separate folders, checklists) you created make perfect sense and in theory should work.  But…

A couple things might be coming into play here:

  • Not wanting to be different
  • Not wanting to be told what to do
  • Not seeing the need to use organizational strategies
  • Not feeling that the methods suggested suit him
  • Complications due to “Theory of Mind”

Let’s look at why you’re worried about organizing him in the first place. This isn’t something we do as intensively for all 12 year olds.  Part of how we recognize a child has Asperger’s is because despite obvious cognitive ability, he is not picking up skills that other children intuitively learn and demonstrate without being explicitly taught.

Sometimes in our eagerness to help we offer props and useful ways of doing things without giving sufficient background information. Does your son know why you want him to organize his work in this way? Has the reasoning behind it been explained to him?  Or better yet, demonstrated to him?  Can he tell you why you’re making these suggestions?

It’s possible that he has not noticed how other students organize themselves.  A class demonstration of such strategies might help and your son is likely not the only student in the room who is having similar difficulties.  Perhaps once he sees that he is not the only person using the two pockets, he would be more cooperative.  In some Middle Years classrooms, every student is required to have an agenda book, taught systematically how to use the book and its use is compulsory.

Your son may have to see concrete examples of what happens when he does and doesn’t use such organizational methods. For two weeks, he organizes himself in whatever manner he chooses. His teacher will keep concise written records of the amount of work handed in, when it’s on time or late and his marks.  Then for the next two weeks he must agree to cooperate with an organizational system suggested by you or his teacher.  If he can see that using a system improves his marks and gets the adults off his back, he may be more willing to continue with the strategies.

Sometimes students don’t care about marks. If this is the case, you may get him to buy in to your system by showing that it’s the path of least resistance. You and the teachers will leave him alone once he’s completing the work and handing it in.

If he does not want a checklist on his binder, would he agree to an inconspicuous one taped to the inside of his binder? Taped to the back of his ruler? Laminated and stored inside his pencil case?

Is there a teacher or teacher associate with whom he feels comfortable? Could he meet with this person first thing in the morning to go over what he needs to hand it, what materials he must gather for his first classes, what his day’s schedule looks like, and before leaving school in the afternoon to review what he has for homework, which materials he needs to take home, etc.

Does he like gadgets?  Rather than a written checklist, would he prefer to receive the same information in electronic form? If he uses a computer, many software programs come with calendars where you can list your deadlines, plan out your work and have the program beep at you to remind you when to begin that scheduled bout of work, as well as when to allow yourself a break.

Smart phones have wonderful features for organizing our lives. The basic Calendar or Reminder functions  can work remarkably well if used regularly. For some kids, using a smart phone for organization is cooler than an agenda book or day timer.

Do rewards work for your son?  If his teacher communicates to you that he’s turned all his work in on time that day or week, would he appreciate receiving the reward he’s earned that weekend?  Or earning a privilege at school?

Is he able to explain to you why he did not hand in his work?  Does he actually do the work then not hand it in? This is where “Theory of Mind” or (Universal Mind as Temple Grandin calls it) may come into play. Perhaps in his mind, if he’s done the work, he has complied.  He was assigned homework and he did it.

Most people with autism spectrum disorders assume that whatever is in their minds is shared by others. If your son completed his work, he might think that everyone else would know that he did.  Showing it to someone can then seem like a redundant step. It may take many repetitions and clear explanations before he understands that doing the work is but the first step – next he needs to hand it in for his teacher to see.

Even if he has Asperger’s, he’s still an adolescent and most adolescents want to blend in with the crowd and value independence.

If both he and his teacher have access to computers, could he do his work on computer then email his assignment to his teacher? Before email was common, my son would work on our home computer then use the computer’s fax program to send his work to his teacher as he finished it, eliminating the need to print it off, stick the pages in a binder, place the binder in a book bag, take it to school, dig through the bag and binder for the work, then hand it in.  Think of all the places where this process could break down, especially if you are distracted, anxious, easily overwhelmed and loaded down with the demands of the next day.

Many students with Asperger’s and autism have weak fine motor coordination, making writing with a pencil difficult.  If your son has poor penmanship, his hand may actually tire more quickly than would be expected for his age. For him to write a paragraph may require as much effort as it would for someone else to write a page. Perhaps the volume of work discourages him and he could benefit from having the volume adapted.

Pencil grips help some students; you may need to experiment with several types before finding one comfortable for him.  Writing on a horizontal surface is tiring for some people.  He may do better with a slant board, writing on an inclined surface. Or lying on his stomach on the floor while doing his homework. An Occupational Therapist may be able to offer some suggestions if fine motor difficulties are hindering your son’s production of work.

Again, this is where computers can be a help.  If doing general school work at a computer is not convenient, a laptop computer is more portable, although expensive. A less costly alternative is a dedicated word processor or “smart keyboard” such as a Neo or Dana.

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