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Learning Characteristics of Autism

written by: Ann Olson • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Autism is a complex illness that can cause various problems in children, depending on its severity. Autism does display several key characteristics that occur in most children. Teachers can learn to utilize these unique characteristics to help them succeed in school.

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    Sensitivity to Stimuli

    The learning characteristics of autism present an issue for teachers--while their heightened ability to sense or visualize may actually aid the student in completing visual tasks or assignments, it can also make it difficult for students surrounded by stimuli they are sensitive to. Teachers should try to embrace these unique learning characteristics and incorporate it into their lesson plans, which encourages autistic children to learn and be productive students.

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    Learning Through Visualization

    Children with autism respond better to pictures, toys, and other visual objects than using traditional teaching methods. Most children with autism have heightened visualization skills, and using visual aids makes it easier for them to process information.

    Strategy: Teachers should use visual aids to demonstrate homework instructions. Younger children learn better when actual objects or toys are used in school exercises, whereas older children--or those approaching middle school--learn better through simply illustrated photographs, pictures or easy-to-read graphs.

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    The Sense of Touch

    A unique but helpful learning characteristic of some children with autism is the need to touch anything they see. Their sensory abilities are heightened, including what they sense through touching objects. Children with autism respond better to classroom exercises or assignments that involve using or touching objects.

    Strategy: Teachers can incorporate items for the child with autism to count or organize as part of a classroom assignment. Science experiments, safely guided by a teacher or assistant, are especially favored. Providing small coins or balls to count as part of math exercises also help them learn better. Teachers should try to encourage learning through use of this unique learning characteristic at all times.

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    Memorization

    Children with autism have more difficulty staying on task. Some children with autism are easily distracted by environmental sounds, whereas others find the movement of a busy classroom too much to handle. Distractibility often prevents children with autism from doing well in school, and teachers must combat it actively.

    Strategy: Organizational supplies, such as sticky notes, student planners, and small notebooks help immensely when it comes to memorizing tasks and staying on track. Teachers can supply small student planners and remind the student to write down his or her assignments after each lesson.

    Teachers should always make sure to sit down with the child and identify other "triggers"--situations that make the autism worse--to avoid other issues with learning in the classroom. They can also identify other learning characteristics not immediately evident in the child's normal classroom behavior. When embraced, these learning characteristics can help children with autism learn nearly at the same level as other students or even beyond.