What Impacts Autistic Children’s Learning?

KEY POINTS
• Every child has individual attributes that interact with an environmental backdrop of their sensory, home, school, and leisure contexts.
• The role of the environment is paramount to the well-being and learning of children on the autism spectrum.
• Environmental variables that may impact autistic individuals’ learning include visual support, emotional pressures, or sensory environment.
•Every day, I am discovering so much about how my children learn.

Every child is a mixed pot of attributes that ebb, flow, and interact with the environmental backdrop of their sensory, home, school, and leisure contexts.

One of my boys flourishes in a very particular sensory environment that is quiet and void of distractions, while another needs a micromanaged routine and structure to excel.

I’m finding, more and more, that just like fish need water, the role of the environment is paramount to the well-being and learning of children on the autism spectrum.

Research increasingly takes into consideration the impact of the environment on the well-being and learning experiences of autistic children, as it moves away from the deficiency perceptive when exploring autistic characteristics.

Take the example of the theory of mind (ToM), defined by Sodian et al. (2003) as a “body of conceptual knowledge that underlies access to both one’s own and others’ mental states.”

While historically it has often been perceived as an impairment for autistic individuals in comparison to neurotypical’s social understanding (E.g., Barn-Cohen, 1990), this perspective continues to be challenged with the rising presence and appreciation of autistic perspectives. Theory of mind is increasingly conceptualized as a reciprocal, dynamic process rather than a deficiency belonging to one person within an interaction, with many authors suggesting that autistic children show different patterns of ToM development as well as the continual development of ToM abilities during schooling.

Similarly, perspectives on learning and cognitive development of neurodiverse individuals are also shifting away from a deficiency model, to embrace unique developmental trajectories and the appreciation of environmental factors.

Consider the example of the focus of attention. While it has been found that many autistic children experience challenges with attention such as difficulties with switching their focus between stimuli (whether visual or relating to mixed modalities), there exist wide-ranging individual differences, including how their attention is impacted by varied environmental variables. Environmental variables can relate to an auditory environment such as the nature of background noise or competing auditory streams; the presence of cues (e.g., explicit instructions or visual ones); or other variables such as an individual’s level of task motivation in relation to their interests.

 

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Source: Psychology Today