For all of us that know and love someone diagnosed with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder), these special children can often seem disconnected from any social or emotional behavior. Most attribute this characteristic to differences in brain connectivity—wiring that never quite got connected—and in fact, this has been the prevailing hypothesis.
The truth is one of the special characteristics and “learning styles” that autistic children share is their visual competence and their ability to picture associate in order to gain information about their confusing world. To put it another way, autistic children tend to be visual learners (versus auditory; hearing, or kinesthetic; hands-on learning).
Evidence of Previously Unknown Hyper-Connectivity in The Brains of Individuals With Autism According to a recent study at Stanford University, the “functional connectivity in autistic people’s brains was most increased in the visual and extrastriate cortices, which deal with sight; and in the temporal lobe, which plays crucial roles in processing and associating sensory input.” This research reports that the brains of autistic children are actually more connected than the brains of non-autistic children.
This is manifest at different degrees across the spectrum of autistic severities. In other words, the higher the functioning of the child, the more prevalent this characteristic will be made manifest. So not all children diagnosed with autism will be great visual learners. However on the spectrum of severity, higher functioning children tend to be visually strong.
Why is this good to know? This can help us better understand not only how to teach an autistic child, but how to communicate with and entertain these loved ones. This, in turn, can positively affect the child’s performance in school as well as the child’s behavior. Therefore, it is important that parents, siblings and educators assess for learning style as soon as an autistic child enters the school system. This will ensure that the autistic child has the greatest chance for success in school and beyond.
A great example of this is the story of an autistic girl named Lisa. At first, when she went to the grocery store with her mother, she would break-away and run around the store making noise, knocking items off the shelves and basically driving her mother (and others) crazy. Through the advice of an intuitive therapist, her mother made a picture book with labels and images of food and took it with them to the grocery store. Lisa would take the book of visual clues around the store and would help her mother do the shopping in a much more efficient amount of time. I’m going to make an assumption that the mother and the store employees weren’t the only ones who benefitted from this great idea. They are willing to help and love back, they just don’t know how to, if left to their own devices.
Encouraging Independence In Children With Autism
Will an autistic child grow to learn how to drive, enroll in college, get a good paying job and live independently? With the right help many are capable of achieving these milestones. In any event, with good communication skills and a solid understanding of the “rules” of this world we share, the happiness of the autistic child (and the happiness of their cohabitants) will be greatly amplified as they grow into adulthood.
One thing I must always remind myself of, just because it’s often sad for us to love someone who has the limitations associated with autism spectrum disorder, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s sad for them. So let’s help them to be happy in their world by assessing the way they learn and then use that to teach them. By honing in on their individual gifts and talents, we can watch them grow, mature and reach their own individual potential.