Autistic spectrum disorder is generally defined as “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). Individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders face different challenges that can affect their learning abilities and motivation in education. Students with autism spectrum disorders may demonstrate different symptoms and needs (Chen, 2014). However, there are general behaviors that educators are recommended to be aware of since these types of concerns may be seen in the majority of ASD students. This presentation will review the main challenges students with autistic spectrum disorders face, as well as strategies and recommendations for educators to use.
Educational challenges of students with ASDs
Educational challenges of students with ASDs can be divided into cognitive processing delays, sensory perception issues, social skill deficits, and expression and motor skill challenges. The term ‘cognitive processing delays’ refers to a condition of students whose ability to intellectually function, translating facts and ideas from language to thoughts, is below the expected average. Sensory perception issues refer to extreme sensitivity to certain sounds, tastes, textures, etc. In addition, students with sensory perception issues might lack depth perception and a sense of balance.
Social skill deficits manifest in the inability to communicate with peers or teachers effectively. Students with social skill deficits often demonstrate poor eye contact, odd speech patterns, as well an inability or difficulty to both begin and maintain the conversation. Expression challenges refer to the students’ difficulties in demonstrating their feelings or explaining thoughts, as well as responding to others’ emotions or attempts to interact. An extreme example of this challenge can also be the inability to recognize people’s faces or tell the difference between them.
Finally, motor skill challenges refer to the difficulties such as mastering handwriting or participating in physical activities that involve motor coordination.
To help students overcome these challenges, educators can be recommended to implement a number of strategies. First, when students are struggling to process ideas, it is essential for the teacher to provide them with enough time to process a fact or a question. Students may also be taught different methods to buy the time needed and improve their thinking process. For example, a teacher can ask them to restate the question asked and think about it for a few minutes. Some students may also be encouraged to use recording devices or summary notes to be able to recreate the ideas discussed in class.
Second, teachers need to talk with students about challenging environmental distractors. Having identified these distractors, teachers can take measures to alleviate them. To mitigate the social skill deficits of students with ASDs, educators need to encourage tolerance and involvement in the classroom. This can be initiated by creating small groups for students to work in and socialize.
In turn, expression challenges can be addressed using different strategies to teach students to moderate their speech. Finally, encouraging ASD students to participate in physical activities in a PE class or during recess will allow them to improve their motor coordination.
Theoretical content found on this subject has presented valuable data connected to the problems and solutions discussed. Thus, the study by Keith et al. has “examined the impact of noise on cognitive performance in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while concurrently measuring sympathetic responses” (2018). This research has demonstrated that there is a direct relationship between arousal, noise in particular, and the performance of students with ASDs, showing that “higher arousal levels were associated with worse performance” (Keith et al., 2018, p. 2). The findings have also demonstrated “an adaptive effect of noise and increased arousal on performance in the easier condition for the control group and a detrimental effect of noise and increased arousal in the harder condition for the ASD group” (Keith et al., 2018).
As mentioned before, many children with ASDs are hypersensitive to sounds, which leads to “high levels of sympathetic nervous system reactivity and is associated with problematic behaviors” (Pfeiffer et al., 2019, p. 3). A study conducted by Pfeiffer et al. evaluated “the proof of concept of an intervention to decrease sympathetic activation” (2019). The research question was to examine “if the intervention provided protection against the negative effects of the decibel level of environmental noises on electrodermal measures between interventions” (Pfeiffer et al., 2019). The findings of the study have shown that noise-attenuating headphones may help to reduce sympathetic activation.
Another study was conducted by Neave-DiToro et al. and examined the use of different ear protection devices by people with ASDs. Among the participants of the study, there were speech-language pathologists, audiologists, teachers, and graduate students with ASD. EPDs that are used most often included “headphones (91%), followed by earmuffs (44%) and earplugs (33%)” (Neave-DiToro et al., 2021, p. 2). While the researchers managed to obtain extensive data on the use of these types of devices, participants were uncertain about the benefits of different EPDs and strategies to apply them in the classroom. Therefore, further research can focus on the ways to implement EPDs in the educational context.
Despite the challenges that exist for children with autism spectrum disorder, educators can and should be recommended to do research and find ways to fully engage such students in the learning process. Encouraging students to discuss any problems that might arise in the classroom in a way that is convenient for them is an important step to establishing warm and trusting relationship. It is also essential to understand the challenges of students with ASD and be ready to address them in the classroom.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Basics about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) | NCBDDD | CDC. Web.
Chen, Z. H. (2014). Learning preferences and motivation of different ability students for social-competition or self-competition. Journal of Educational Technology & Society. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(1), 283-293.
Keith, J. M., Jamieson, J. P., & Bennetto, L. (2018). The influence of noise on autonomic arousal and cognitive performance in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(1), 113-126. Web.
Neave-DiToro, D., Fuse, A., & Bergen, M. (2021). Knowledge and awareness of ear protection devices for sound sensitivity by individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 52(1), 409-425. Web.
Pfeiffer, B., Stein Duker, L., Murphy, A., & Shui, C. (2019). Effectiveness of noise-attenuating headphones on physiological responses for children with autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 13. Web.