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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.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook


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!

Peer pressure

How To Deal With Peer Pressure

Strategies to teach your child to manage pressures within their peer group 

Being a child can be challenging as you deal with navigating choices about friends, social appropriateness, and ways to feel accepted. Children are confronted with a number of messages about the world through their parents, their friends, and the media and at times it can be tough coordinating choices that satisfy all three sources. How can we teach our children to manage social pressures that they know are incorrect or can elicit negative feedback or consequences?

1) Work with your child on creating value system. When a child knows their values and sets of expectations, it becomes clear what choices would align and what choices would counteract their value system. When we make choices in line with our value system, we feel good about our decisions and can anticipate positive feedback or praise. If we make decisions that go against our core values, we experience consequences or negative feedback. For instance, if it is within a child’s value system to treat others with respect, it might feel strange for them to follow a friend’s advice to talk back to a teacher.

2) Teach assertive communication. Children may feel uncomfortable communicating their needs effectively to their peers out of fear that they may be seen as aggressive or mean. Instead, assertive communication projects a firm boundary in a calm tone. Assertive communication looks like:

“Please stop, I do not like that.”

The message is clearly stated in a non-threatening and calm tone. It is expressing a need and should not risk an overtly, escalated response from a peer. If a child were to yell this message or say it in a mean tone, the message changes and can appear aggressive. As long as the child remains calm and reasserts their message, appropriate reactions from others will ensue. Encourage your child to practice assertive communication with you when they are not happy with a directive in lieu of yelling or experiencing a large, upset reaction.

3) Work with your child on identifying positive qualities that they look for in friends. In this conversation, help your child come up with at least 5 traits that are important in having a friend so as to separate those who do not fit this mold. This will help your child decipher between peers vs. friends and how to choose individuals to spend their time with who embody traits that make them feel comfortable.


Helping Your Child Who Is Not Social | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode below, our Pediatric Neuropsychologist answers a question from a viewer on what to do when a child does not know how to make friends.

In This Video You Will Learn:

  • What to do when your child is not social
  • How to investigate the reasons
  • How to intervene on your child’s behalf

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello. I am Robyn Ackerman with Pediatric Therapy TV. I am standing here today with Dr. Stasi. In today’s segment we will be answering questions from our viewers. Charlie has given us a question from Kansas City. Charlie asks, “My 4-year-old son is having a hard time making friends in school. What can I do to help him?”

Dr. Stasi: Thank you. That’s a great question. What we often think about in school is the child’s academic needs and the child’s behavioral concerns. We often neglect the social emotional concerns of the child. It is just as vital to identify these concerns as the academics and the behavioral functioning. What I really recommend first, if a child is struggling in the social realm, is to make an evaluation to determine why. Is it some underlying construct that this child has, an internal deficit with interacting with another child? Is it anxiety, that they are afraid to approach others? Or is it something else? Already being teased or bullied?

Once you can identify the reason for the behavior, then we can intervene for this child to develop what is going to be appropriate. It has to be individually. We cannot just create a plan for any child to improve his or her social functioning. It has to be based on specific needs. It works as a team, then, working with the school social worker, the school psychologist, the teacher, and also outside advocates that you have, be it a child’s therapist or a neuropsychologist. We really want to intervene for the child to determine what is going on and then where to go from here.

So, I think, Charlie, the answer to your question is that we can’t answer that question. We need to figure out why. We need to determine what’s going on. Then we have the basics to really intervene and make sure that this child succeeds socially.

Robyn: Thank you, Dr. Stasi, and thank you, Charlie. And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at LearnMore.me.