Father and son with autism studying flash cards

Repetitive Training Not Helping Children With Autism

I’ve written about the difficulties I have had getting my own children to recognize and use washrooms that are not the ones from our home. It can be a real challenge for a child with autism because there is a tendency to represent, understand, and remember things in an extremely specific way.

This tendency towards specific or inflexible learning is called hyper-specificity, and is the subject of a new new study published in Nature Neuroscience . This study found that repetitive training, which is widely used in intervention and education for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hinders the learning process by promoting further inflexibility.

Individuals with ASD develop hyper-specificity of learning, where their learning becomes fixed and inflexible – when learning tasks are repeated over and over.

“In follow-up experiments, this hyper-specificity in learning with repetition in individuals with ASD was eliminated when repetition in learning was reduced.”

“Our conclusion is that breaks in repetition allow the visual system some time to rest and allow autistic individuals to learn efficiently and to then generalize,” study investigator David Heeger, PhD, of the Center for Neural Science, New York University, in New York City, said in a statement. “Repeated stimulation leads to sensory adaptation, which interferes with learning and makes learning specific to the adapted conditions. Without adaptation, learning is more efficient and can be generalized,” he noted.

This quite groundbreaking research mostly pertains to those with lower cognitive ability with whom repetitive trials of picture stimuli are a common learning intervention. This is important information for educators and therapists to have in order to adjust their teaching methods to include new stimuli and approaches. Even though it might create some initial stress or anxiety in the child, this new research shows that giving your children with ASD a wide variety of experiences, tastes, and learning tools is going to help them in the long run.

 

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  1. Ashley Ewasko says:

    What is the study called? I would like to review it. Thanks

  2. I totally agree that repetitive learning leads to inflexibility instead of encouraging flexibility. I have notice with our children it works more efficiently to break learning up into parts to allow for visual processing.  Create similar lessons/topics using different methods like but not exactly the same repetitively, allows them to build on generalization. This has worked the best & I can clearly see the huge impact it has made on their ability to comprehensively at a cognitive level learned the materials  without a question. I have no professional training as a teacher by any means but I have observed  our children very careful & have taken the cues from them as to what works the best. They are my teachers & this method has enriched their love for learning. Cognitively wise they are higher than this article is referring to but that doesn’t make the message or discovery an less of importance more as in worthier of looking into & expanding further development of.

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