Fostering EARLY Learning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

When we think of learning in childhood, we often think of what happens in the classroom, but learning starts very early on in life. A child’s early learning includes a combination of watching the world around them, seeing how the world then responds, and imitating what is seen. However, these tasks can be more difficult for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Let’s take a look at how children with ASD may interact differently with the world around them:

  1. More focus is on the non-social environment vs. the social environment: A child throwsEarly Learning and Autism a toy while in a crib and waits for the loud crash. The child may have learned that this noise attracts her parent’s attention, and then anticipates her mom or dad walking in the room. The child may then look intently at her parent’s facial expression in order to create additional meaning. A child with ASD may ignore the toys altogether and be focused on the moving fan in the room. If the child’s mom walks in the room, the child may continue to express interest in the fan rather than look over to see who has entered the room. As a result, the child has missed an opportunity to learn and practice communication and socialization.
  2. Likelier to be more interested in objects vs. people: A child with ASD may tend to explore objects in unusual ways (i.e. smelling, looking at an object at an angle) while typically developing children tend to be more interested in facial expressions, gestures, and words.
  3. Imitation: When the natural instinct of a typically developing child is to imitate, children with ASD tend NOT to imitate. A child with ASD has difficulty with copying others’ behaviors, sounds, movements, and does not understand that her behavior effects the behaviors of others. In typically developing children, this is the primary source of learning.
  4. Behaviors that interfere with learning: Children with ASD tend to become unusually interested in objects and may engage in repetitive behavior or play (lining up toys for hours, stacking blocks, spinning the wheels of a toy car). They can also become irritated when their play is directed to something else, which can lead to a tantrum. These difficulties with transition or rigidity are commonly observed in youth with ASD, which makes it difficult for these children to focus their attention on the learning opportunities that are happening around them!

So what can we do to help children with ASD become more engaged with their environment and enhance their learning?

Research has shown that areas of the brain that are responsible for socialization, learning, and language are underdeveloped in children with ASD, making it difficult for children with ASD to make sense of the world around them. These studies have indicated that early intervention is key to fostering an environment that will be conducive to learning (Rogers, S.; Dawson,G.; Vismara, L., 2012). This and other great information can be found in the book, An Early Start for your Child with Autism by Drs. Sally Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie Vismara.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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