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Why This Common Teaching Method Doesn’t Work For People With Autism

A study from Nature Neuroscience offers new information on best practices for helping individuals with autism learn. The study shows that the traditional method of teaching through repetition may be flawed due to an ASD individual’s difficulty transferring knowledge from one context to another. In fact, the study indicates this teaching method may even be counterproductive to learning.

Reading a book

The problem with repetition stems from a sort of “hyperspecificity of learning,” which means the child’s learning is set on one thing.

The idea is easier explained than defined. To teach a child what a dog is, one might repeatedly show pictures of a dog, indicating that what’s in the picture is called “dog.” After the child successfully learned “dog,” one could move on to teaching “cat” using the same method. The child with autism would likely learn “dog” using this method, but when introduced to “cat,” the child may have trouble because there was too much focus on “dog.” The child would also have difficulty transferring knowledge between contexts. In other words, the child would not be able to apply their knowledge of “dog” in order to understand the concept of “cat.” They would have to start all over again from square one.

Toddler playing with big dog

Parents Magazine suggests that parents and teachers supplement traditional teaching methods like repetition with methods that promote generalization. Frequent breaks in repetition along with varied examples of concepts and exposure to natural environments can make a big difference in teaching children with autism. For instance, it may be more helpful to show a variety of dog pictures as well as actual dogs rather than repetitively showing the same image of a dog. Implementing the teaching methods suggested by the study could be a key factor in helping a child with autism learn.

How does your child learn best?

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