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Ask the Experts

My Third-Grader Has Asperger's

By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist


My son is diagnosed with Asperger's. The school doesn't recognize Asperger's as debilitating enough to warrant services or accommodations. He has trouble writing legibly; he either needs a weighted glove or a keyboard. He also needs more time on timed tests. How can I get the school to help him?


Asperger's Disorder is generally not considered an educational disability. However, if the disturbances in social relationships, communication and behavior that are characteristic of Asperger's affect your son's educational performance, he may qualify for special education services or accommodations.

The independent testing your son has had indicates he is doing quite well academically. Thus, it may be difficult to make a case for special education services based on his above-average to average academic performance. The difficulties you mentioned (i.e., writing legibly and needing more time on tests) are not necessarily related to Asperger's. I would recommend speaking to his teacher and the school principal specifically about these issues to discuss how they can help your son. If you find the school is resistant to helping your son, the services of an educational advocate might be helpful. I would also recommend working closely with a child psychologist with expertise in Asperger's disorder to make sure your son is getting the help he needs regarding social relationships and communication. For information on an Asperger's support group go here.

Dr. Lisa Hunter is an assistant professor in the department of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of school-based mental health programs at Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based mental health and prevention programs. In addition she is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment for children and adolescents.


Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"This is inaccurate information. Children with aspergers qualify for special Ed under autistic like behaviors. They can have fine and gross motor issues, processing delays and problems, sensory issues that affect their ability to navigate a school environment, social impairments that prevent them from working with and understanding others, social and pragmatic language disorders, executive functioning issues, problems with abstract thinking. it is not a minor neurological disorder, and despite average to high IQs, and proficiency or gifts with basic academics, there are many gaps in understanding and performance ability. they often miss key pieces of information, take longer to finish work, have trouble with complex and abstract assignments, collaboration, reading comprehension, writing. All the kids I know, including my own, have IEPs filled with social emotional goals, and receive services such as speech, social skills, adaptive PE, OT, and special accommodations. Their e! ligibility for special Ed has nothing to do with strict academic performance. Many of them need support just to function in the classroom with peers and need to be taught in specialized ways. "
"Writing difficulties are very much a part of Asperger's. With my son they refused to help until the could use the excuse he's not too old to help with handwriting... Get an advocate on board NOW. There are free ones out there. "
"Actually the symptoms you are mentioning are related to Asperger's Syndrome. I have a son in the fourth grade who has similar problems. It depends in what state you live. We live in Texas and the school does offer services under section 504. They can make certain accommodations for your son to address his issues. You need to speak to the school councilor and schedule a meeting. You, the teacher and the councilor will come up with a plan to help your son. My son has an aid that helps him with organization. He also sees the councilor on occasion for help with social skills."
"I have to disagree with the answer about handwriting on this one. Kids with Asperger's have a very difficult time with writing. I have a son that was recently diagnosed with Asperger's and all the reading I have done, books, online, and medical information, all state that handwriting is very difficult for children with Apserger's. I too am starting the process of having the school help with my son... although they too will not give him an IEP... I am going to ask them about the 504 and see if they offer this. They almost see him as having no problems at all and do not think he needs any additional help. I will be meeting with the Student Study Services sometime soon... we will see how that goes."
"My son was also diagnosed with Aspergers and he attends a private school. They did not have an actual program for him, but by law, they have to have an IEP set up. You will have to be his advocate for this. Every school must have this option for you."
"My son also has Aspergers. Per the Dept of Education, Aspergers falls under the Autism spectrum. There are laws that allow for help and other accomadations by the school and by law the schools have to put in place accomadations. One of the things my son gets is extra time on tests. Especially on standardized tests. "
"I read this article today and it seems to be the same everywhere I look. I have a child with Apergers. She is also a survivng rape and abuse victim. She has also been disgnosed with other comorbid D/O such as OCD, ADHD, Behavior D/O and Depression oh, and last but not least PTSD. The public school system that is trying to mainstream her keeps sending all of these papers and homework home as if she were a normal student. She's already been in trouble her 2nd day of school and haad to write 10 times this long sentence. It took her 4.5 - 5 hours to write ten sentences!!! What can I do? All she does is get in trouble and be made fun of. She is on a 3rd grade level and they put her in 6th grade this year!?!She was just put back in a normal school setting the last half of last year, as they have kicked her out twice. What am I supposed to do? She can't function like the other kids and I can't make her!! Please give advice or options if you can..."
"My son also has Asperger's And i had to advocate for my son to get extra help in his school. What i did was Get an IEP plan in place. and now my son has a caseworker sent in class with him once a week and help him out socially in groups. and also he has had an IQ Test done. and now he gets gifted classes twice a week. it has helped extremely. "
"from New Hampshire 11/29/06 Yes, I agree with the last person. You should be able to get him on a 504 plan. A 504 plan is specifically for a student who needs any type of accomodation but IS working academically at or even above their grade level. Whereas an I.E.P. is for those students NOT working at their grade level due to their disability. I have one child on a 504 for speech services only (for a lisp), and I have another child on a full I.E.P. for speech, physical therapy, and special needs. He was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) Which really just means that he has some traits in common with Aspergers and Autism but cannot be labelled as such. On first glance he seems like a pretty normal third grader, most people don't realize he has special needs. That is why you need the formal testing done (at school or privately or both). They will measure all sorts of skills that you cannot see. For instance, he may be bril! liant with math problems, but have difficutly grasping his pencil effectively and need extra time to write because of hand fatigue. Our new school has even set up a small social group for our son during one lunch period per week to help with his social issues. Socialization is a factor in his success at school too. So start with a thorough evaluation, and remember your child has a right to a 'Free and Appropriate Public Education'!"
".from South Dakota 11/19/06 Please consider a 504 plan for your child. I have a son diagnosed as a Dyslexic learner. The school was constantly trying to take him out of class time and put him in Title classes. This put more stress on my son and his ability to focus and concentrate. We struggled with our school district for 2and 1/2 years before getting him put on a 504 plan. We had to get the state education department involved. With a 504 plan, a child who needs some accomadations to succeed in the classroom will do incredible work. My son is given more time to take tests and also has his tests read to him. He has other accomadations also depending on the subject and teacher. Please assist your child in getting these simple common sence accomadations that can take a mountain of stress off your child. You'll be amazed at his success when you remove some of the stressers [which are not his fault] caused by his disorder."
"Tell your school, you want your son evaluated. Start with his teacher. After they test they should write up an IEP. That is what they did with our son, at his school, after the school psychologist came up with a diagnsis of Asperger's. Since we refused that diagnosis, after getting a second (more qualified) opinion, they refused to help us with his other problem."
"You should be able to get your child extra time on tests; at least. The school purchasing products that 'you' actually think is best for him may be a lot harder to accomplish or impossible. I'm just a student studing to become a future teacher, and i've learned that law states that 'resonable accomodation with with aid learning' a weighted glove and/or a keyboard may be something that the school may see as uncessary for them to purchase to 'aid his learning' The instructor should still at least be able to have a flexible time schedule to provide extra time for him, somehow. If I was instructing the classroom I would at least do that for him; I would probably do that with anyone that shows academic need."
"The special education area in this country has a long way to go. It is so difficult to get an IEP. My son was thought to have Asperger's but has not been diagnosed with it due to inconsistencies in his abilities. I fought tooth and nail with the school department and won. It took a long time to find the right plan, the right school and the right teachers to recognize that my son, while acedemically acheiving on all his test scores, needed special services. All I can say to this mom is to go with your gut. If your son needs special devices and needs special time on taking test, that IS CERTAINLY a reason to try to get him an IEP. You know your child best ... remember that. And you are your child's best advocate. Fight!"