3 months ago



Frankie 169 there are

Frankie 169 there are many children with nonverbal learning disability who do not have AS. Nevertheless the confusion continues in the literature. Once we cleared up the diagnosis, Harry’s parents wanted some help on instructional strategies to improve his school performance. To do this, it was important to explain to them the kinds of difficulties that children with ASD demonstrate in cognitive testing. This subject has been researched thoroughly, and the results are fairly consistent. In fact, some researchers see autism as primarily an information-processing disorder, a convincing explanation as long as that includes the processing of social information as well. The most common finding in ASD is a discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal cognitive skills; that is, children with autism are said to have good nonverbal skills and poor verbal skills. This is reflected in their scores on IQ tests, where the verbal scores are often well below their nonverbal scores, based on tests of matching, copying, pattern recognition, rote memory, and so on. As mentioned earlier, children with AS may have the opposite pattern: good verbal and relatively poor nonverbal skills. This may seem paradoxical given that both are forms of ASD. In fact, perhaps a better explanation of cognitive difficulties in ASD than the verbal–nonverbal discrepancy is provided by differentiating rote skills from the more complex skills of integration and using contextual cues. Children with ASD (both those with autism and those with AS) tend to have relatively good rote skills, whether in the verbal or nonverbal domains. That is why somebody like Harry was able to read at such an early age: He had excellent rote skills in both visual– spatial processing (so he could recognize groups of letters and organize them into sounds and syllables) and basic rote verbal skills (so he could sound the letters out). It was true that he couldn’t understand much of what he read, but his ability to sound out the letters and syllables was excellent. As a result, Harry and other children with ASD often have good word recognition skills but poor comprehension of a paragraph or a sentence. As long as the task is simple and relies on rote skills, the child is able to learn easily. But as the children develop, performance on more complex tasks (whether verbal or nonverbal) falls off more rapidly in children with ASD than in typically developing children. This leads to an inefficiency in learning, poor use of contextual clues to understand a problem, and a failure to use organizing strategies to process new information. In other words, children with ASD find it difficult to learn by rote in one situation and apply it to another. This is probably

170 A MIND APART the result of the deficits in executive function or in switching attention among children with ASD referred to earlier. Instructional strategies, therefore, need to take advantage of these relative strengths in rote learning and apply them to situations where learning requires more complex organizing principles. Since visual presentation of learning materials is often simpler than verbal presentation, picture symbols, photographs, drawings, and other graphics are effective ways to teach children with ASD. These visual clues help organize the child. They allow the teacher to break a complex task down into component parts, deal with each part in isolation, then combine them in a rote way to accomplish the more complex demands of learning. We taped a “process” sheet to Harry’s desk to remind and cue him on how to work independently: If it was a homework assignment, step 1 was to underline each component of the assignment, step 2 to make notes for each part, step 3 to type them together in one paragraph, and step 4 to edit the paragraph to improve the flow. He needed reminders of this process each time he did his homework and initially required a tutor to take him step by step through the routine. Eventually, the tutor could fade out at the end of the process and not prompt him. But Harry always needed help to get started, to sit down, look at the sheet, and start to beak down the homework assignment into its parts. The key difference between Harry and his classmates was that in addition to needing to be taught the content of his classes, he needed to be taught how to organize his work, how to solve a problem. Every class assignment, whether it was reading, writing, mathematics, history, or science, had to be reformulated so that the learning could be initiated by rote and could bypass his weaker organizing strategies. An easier way to accomplish this is often through computer-assisted instruction. Children with ASD love to use computers, and will happily stay on them for hours. In fact, it is often so difficult to get them off the computer that it almost seems like an addiction. Fortunately, there are now many programs on the computer that can teach young children with ASD to read and do simple math operations. Several studies have shown that children with ASD learn faster by computer than through verbal instruction, perhaps because the computer not only holds their attention longer but also uses the principle of presentation by visual means, which is less complex and requires less contextual cuing to be understood. Computer-assisted instruction made a huge difference to Zachary (Chapter 4) in his early school years. He learned to read and do addition, subtraction, and basic multiplication all by com-