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  • Difficulties with social interaction can have a range of impacts Difficulties with social interaction can include challenges in understanding expectations, difficulties interacting in reciprocal social relationships, avoidance of social interactions, or difficulties with impulse control.
  • May or may not be disability-related. These types of challenges can be related to the impact of a disability or may be non-disability related. For example, challenges in understanding expectations may occur if a student is new to the post-secondary environment or other social difficulties may result from students with different levels of maturity.
  • Contact campus resources if you are uncertain of how to respond to challenges in this area Many students with difficulties in this area may not feel comfortable discussing these difficulties with their instructor directly. If instructors are unsure how to proceed, contact campus resources such as the School Chair, Student Counselling Centre, or Disability Service Coordinator for guidance.
  • Try to understand the student’s perspective. Are they having difficulty understanding the academic expectations of being at college or do they seem to struggle with social skills? Do they appear to find responding to change difficult? Do they seem to be avoiding social interactions? Depending on the nature of the student’s situation, different types of support may be most effective.
  • Conduct expectations still apply Even for students who experience difficulties with social interaction due to disability-related reasons, it is important that all students conduct themselves respectfully to meet essential learning outcomes for their courses, to be independent learners, and not to interfere with other students’ learning. Providing students with consistent, respectful information and guidance on these expectations is appropriate. However, sensitivity to their disability-related situation is also needed. Contact the Disability Service Coordinator, Student Counselling Centre, or School Chair for guidance and support on how best to communicate and support students with disabilities when challenges around their social conduct arise.
  • Provide clear expectations. Provide students with clear information about course layout and expectations in the classroom, for assignments, and other assessments. As much as possible, be consistent with these plans.
  • Be clear and straightforward in your communication with students. Recognize that some students may have difficulty reading nonverbal social cues, understanding sarcasm, and adjusting to and understanding new expectations and routines. To help ensure that the instructor’s intended meaning is understood, be straightforward, respectful, and concrete in interactions including instructions, feedback, guidance, and social communication. Whenever possible, provide instructions and feedback both orally and in writing so that the student can review later as well.
  • Recognize that college environment or your course/program may be a new experience for the student. Recognize that there may be many new experiences involved for this student as they participate in classes. Explain new information clearly, at a reasonable pace that the student can absorb, and consider what may be new for the student. Check for understanding by asking students to paraphrase expectations back to the instructor, especially when they express that they are having difficulties.
  • Give students a safe place to ask questions/debrief with instructors. Give students a safe, quiet, and discreet place to discuss challenges, such as during office hours. Practice active listening to hear the student fully even if their delivery may not be polished.
  • Focus on supporting their learning. Some students may find it easier to communicate through email or to seek support for discussing challenges with instructors from their Disability Advisor or Counselor. Encourage and be open to using a communication mode that works for the student, recognizing that the focus is on their learning success.

 

  • Recognize that students with difficulties in this area may also experience significant difficulty in understanding perspectives different from their own. These students can experience significant difficulty in negotiating and understanding different perspectives. Do not hesitate to discuss these types of challenges with campus resources such as the Student Counselling Centre or Disability Service Coordinator.
  • Seek advice and support from campus resources such as the Disability Services Office. If instructors suspect that a student’s challenges with social interaction may be disability-related, they should discuss their observations with the campus Disability Service Coordinator who will be able to provide insight, further guidance, and resources.
  • Seek support for challenging behaviors. Do not hesitate to discuss challenging behaviors and situations with the Department Chair, Student Counselling Office, or Disability Service Coordinator to collaborate on how to best support the student’s learning and the experience of other students in the class (if relevant).
  • Recognize that students in this situation may find it difficult to ask for support when they are struggling – check ins, and reaching out to access support for them can make a significant difference. Some students may avoid social interactions due to the functional impact of their disability. They may be anxious or uncertain about how to initiate communication about difficulties they are experiencing. This may lead students in this situation to avoid communicating with instructors or support staff. Instructors can help students in these situations by providing an open and respectful classroom environment. Providing students with a range of options to be in touch with instructors, such as email, in person, or with the support of their Disability Service Coordinator or Counselor is also helpful. Some students who have challenges with social interaction may also find it more accessible to have a regular appointment time scheduled rather than drop-in opportunities because this establishes a routine and predictable approach. If instructors are concerned about a student’s progress and the student is not communicating with them, contact campus resources for support.
  • Additional clarification on course expectations. Instructors may be asked to provide the student with additional opportunities for clarification on assignment expectations.
  • Additional support for group assignments. Instructor may be asked to provide additional support to students for group assignments, such as delineating clear roles and monitoring progress.
  • Access to peer mentor program or counseling support. Student may be offered opportunity to participate in peer mentoring programs or Counselling support to assist in skill development in this area.
  • Alternate assignments on occasion. Students may be provided with a suitable alternative for some assessments if the alternative does not interfere with the essential learning outcomes of the course. For example, a student may be permitted to present their presentation to the instructor instead of the entire class if they experience severe social anxiety in this situation.
  • Exam accommodations such as extra writing time and a quiet testing setting A separate, quiet environment may be provided for tests and exams to minimize social anxiety and to allow the student to concentrate fully on the test.
  • Learning skills support to provide further assistance in understanding assignment expectations and to organize and structure steps to complete multi-step projects.
  • Provide an on-campus ‘break space’. Provide a low stimulus, quiet space for students to de-stress or to take a break from social demands. This can assist students who struggle with social interaction to maintain balance and stamina for the social demands they need to meet while on campus.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – difficulties in understanding and participating in reciprocal social relationships, difficulties in processing nonverbal communication and social cues resulting in difficulties with predicting how others may respond to one’s thoughts and actions. Can result in behaviors that may seem rude but this is not usually the intention. Potential greater need for stability and needing time to adjust to new routines/environments.
  • Mental health condition such as an Anxiety Disorder, Depression, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – may avoid social interaction when experiencing significant symptoms.

Case Study

It was Julie’s first semester at college. It was also her first time living away from home. She was excited about attending college, but she was also nervous about all of the changes. Three weeks into the term, her instructor stood in front of the class and pulled out the course syllabus.

“I am thinking about changing the next assignment,” the instructor said. “Instead of actually researching the topic, I would like you to write a personal reflection piece that just talks about how you feel about it. No research is needed. I am more interested in what this topic means to you, rather than what you can find out about it at the library or on the Internet. I want your own thoughts, your own feelings. A personal reflection piece.”

The students around Julie all smiled and expressed relief at what they thought was going to be an easy assignment. But Julie immediately felt extremely anxious and angry. She raised her hand and loudly said: “But that is not what the course syllabus says! It says we are supposed to do a research project! Now you say you want something else, but that is not what the syllabus says! You can’t just go and change it!” Julie was almost yelling now.

Not sure what to do next and feeling hugely frustrated and afraid, Julie burst into tears. She scooped up her books and ran from the classroom. Later that day, when she had finally calmed down, Julie approached the college’s Disability Services Office (DSO). She was known to them because on admission she had registered with the DSO and let them know that she had Autism Spectrum Disorder. Because her condition did not affect her cognitive abilities, she had not requested any formal academic accommodation. Until this point, she had been quite successful in college. Together Julie and the DSO counsellor discussed strategies for better managing her anxiety when she felt stressed in class.

The instructor, recalling having received a form from the DSO earlier in the year about Julie’s possible needs, also reached out to the DSO staff.

Staff from the DSO met with Julie and the instructor together. With Julie’s permission, they explained to the instructor some of the dynamics of ASD. The instructor learned that people who have ASD often have a strong need for predictability in their lives and they are not always aware of how their behaviour comes across to others For example, Julie had intended no offense, but the change in assignment had overwhelmed her. Together, the instructor, the DSO counsellor, and Julie put together a plan to help Julie manage her anxiety, including a pledge from the instructor to be more cautious about changing course expectations.

Videos

Aynslie Croney on accommodating students with Autism:

 

Mitchell and Ross accommodation experience for Autism Spectrum Disorder:

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