Learning Potential in People with Autism

This research was recently published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. The hope is that the knowledge acquired from this research will help change the way people with autism are taught. The non-verbal test that was used showed individuals employed visual processing to problem solve.

I particularly liked one visual processing example used in the article because I have seen this at work with my own son. The example was when teaching the sound “ea” it might be better to present it within the context of sight words that contain “ea” such as peach, teach, reach etc. This example follows the reading method outlined in Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome and Leslie Broun’s book Literacy Skill Development for Students with Special Learning Needs.

When measuring intelligence using standard IQ tests, three-quarters of people with autism have been classified as having low intelligence. Using a test such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices is a more appropriate way of measuring intelligence because it is relatively independent of language. In some cases, scores came out much higher than on traditional IQ tests. When my son was in grade 3 and needed to have IQ testing done, I did not allow standard IQ tests to be used but insisted on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test. It was a better reflection of his intelligence.

So what is the point of all of this? Dr. Laurent Mottron of the University of Montreal, who was part of this research team, says it’s important to explore new ways to teach people with autism because there is not strong scientific evidence that behavioural therapies are effective.  Many parents would disagree with this statement. One father from Ottawa was worried that this research may be used to support the theory that the autistic brain is just wired differently and specialized therapy is not needed.

My thought is if we knew how to teach children with autism effectively, maybe certain behaviours would disappear. Once my son learned to read using a non-phonemic method, a great deal of his frustration was gone. Using visual supports for schedules and breakdown of tasks lessens his anxiety. Articles such as this one certainly give us food for thought.

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