14/02/2021

Is learning different for people with autism?


That people with autism think differently was discussed in a previous blog and that this obviously has consequences for the learning ability. I want to elaborate on that a bit more in detail.

The processing of neurological and cognitive processes sometimes proceeds differently than with neurotypical people, and the picture that was published in the Dutch Volkskrant on 28-2-2013, and is shown below, gives a good impression of these differences.













On the one hand, we see on the left, an autism dominant brain, that the lines of connection between the different brain areas (associations) are rather infrequent, and compared to the results of a neurotypical person on the right, these signals show more coherence. Thus they are better interconnected. What does this mean in practice and in particular, for learning?


Many people with autism, especially from the high-functioning group, often indicate that they need more time to learn new things. Considering the picture above, that seems pretty obvious. Before the correct connections are made and consolidated, more time is needed until all relevant information has been incorporated and processed. 


Practical situation: Where a neurotypical person is well able to come up with a solution or answer to an ad hoc question or assignment, someone with autism can have a lot of difficulty with this and this can even lead to a blockage or panic in this person. It may seem as if the latter does not know an answer to the question asked, but that certainly does not have to be the case, he just needs more time.

I can describe the consequences of this learning mechanism as follows:



















Someone with autism does not usually learn a little every day but learns with leaps and bounds. The interval depends on the individual and on the context or situation. For example, it may seem that that person does not apparently seem to be gathering information for days or maybe weeks, but then suddenly she shows that she knows and understands much more than you would expect. This process continues and under good conditions, and with the right support, the knowledge gained remains and serves as the basis for further expansion. Further accumulation of knowledge will most likely speed up as soon as a solid base has been established.


Learning styles are strongly linked to the communication style of the individual. We know three dominant styles, visual, auditory and finally kinesthetic (touch). With neurotypical people there is a preferred style, in people with autism the dominant style can even lead to the exclusion of the others. If someone is visually oriented, it is possible that the narration is heard but is not registered and therefore not remembered. Not only teachers must take this into account, but also work supervisors and buddies who support a new employee.


So there is work to be done, the result is astonishing.