Learning material around Scenario Three

1. Promoting effective communication in the classroom and dealing with group dynamics

One of the main difficulties of autism is the complications they experience in communication. Most of the adolescents show difficulties both in expressing themselves verbally as in understanding how others communicate and how to interact in social situations. It is not always that they do not want to communicate, but they just do not know how to do it and maybe over-communicate to compensate.
Adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder may have difficulties in understanding emotions, jokes, sarcasm, metaphors because they take language literally and are not always able to use symbols. They use superficial speech and have disturbances in the use of deep speech. It will take them more time to understand and to process information and this can give rise to anxiety and misunderstanding. It will be hard for them to interact and maintain relationships with peers or with their teacher. They will not initiate or engage easily in conversation and may fail to express themselves verbally. On the other hand, it is possible for some of them to insist in communicating in their own way, without empathy or the ability to understand the impact of their way of communication.
They are more prone towards feelings of anxiety, obsessional mechanisms of behavior and the use of perseveration, both in language as well as in behavior. Often they do not show a desire to communicate states of mind and information to other people. They have a heightened intolerance towards changes and separation. They use obsessional defenses against anxiety, which may dismantle their perceptual apparatus.
The main characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder are social skills impairment, lack of behavioral and thinking flexibility, restricted interests, but they also show lack of empathy, poor non-verbal communication and a bizarre way of speaking. Adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder are susceptible to the influence of a group of peers and sensitive to changes in the group structure. Their social interactions are shallow because it is hard for them to accurately empathize with another person.
In working in a group setting with these adolescents we have to keep in mind the characteristics of group dynamics, like unspoken rules and norms, group coherence, inter-member relations, features of group identity, values, communication patterns, conflicts and problem solving. It is important to use group-healing factors like hope, feeling that “I’m not alone”, sharing information, altruism, and development of socializing techniques, behavior modelling, interpersonal learning, group consistency and group conscience. They may take different group roles: leader, observer, aggressor, disrupter, clown, scapegoat, yes-man or outsider. Therefore, every special educator working in groups has to study the different group dynamics and to deal with them. Besides learning social skills, the adolescents working in a group setting can also receive social support, find an accepting peer group and work on their self-identity.