The Learning Style of Students on the Autism Spectrum

"As a teacher with three high functioning autistic students in my class, I would like to know the best way to approach different subjects in a way that will work best for them. Thanks in advance."

Students with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) exhibit difficulty in appropriately processing in-coming information. Their brain's ability to take in, store, and use information is significantly different than neuro-typically developing kids. This results in a somewhat unusual perspective of the world. Thus, teaching strategies for these students will need to be different than strategies used for students without the disorder.

AS and HFA students typically exhibit strengths in their visual processing skills, with significant weaknesses in their ability to process information via auditory means. Thus, use of visual methods of teaching, as well as visual support strategies, should always be incorporated to help the student better understand his/her environment.

The young people are visual learners. Visual learners are those children who find it easiest and most effective to take in information through the visual medium.

Visual learners learn well using formats such as:
  • following visual cues and landmarks during a journey or task
  • "imagining" what something looks like so they can remember it
  • looking at photos or images on a screen
  • looking at whole words printed on a page
  • using visual recall as a learning strategy
  • viewing themselves performing a task or activity via filming and subsequent play back on a video camera
  • watching a video or DVD
  • watching someone else perform a task or activity

As a tip for educators, it is handy to get an understanding of how your children learn best, and tailor your teaching strategies for visual learners to include some of the above approaches. This will ensure visual learners are given information in a way which suits their preferences, but also helps them build other learning style skills. Remember it is not possible to learn everything in life (and particularly in an English language class!) through a visual teaching strategy.

Turn offs for visual learners—

Visual learners often don't do so well with strategies such as:
  • copying the phonetic sounds made by a teacher
  • following verbal instructions, especially those which are complex or involve multiple steps
  • hearing a teacher say a word and then repeating it
  • listening to a tape of a voice or recording
  • using computer programs which involve an extensive verbal or audio component without corresponding visuals

Many of these strategies are better suited to children who are more skilled at auditory processing of information. Visual learners need a reasonable amount of visual input, so a useful teaching tip is to make sure each lesson includes a visual component to meet the needs of visual learners, even when teaching a strongly auditory task such as language learning.

How to cater to visual learners—

Learning a language is a highly verbal, auditory task. Working in a visual component is challenging, as one of the key competencies for learning to speak a language well is to be able to hear various sounds and replicate them. But language learning also means making a match between graphic images (graphemes) and the sounds they make (phonemes). This is the key piece of knowledge for educators looking for some language learning tips. This fact applies regardless of what language is being taught, or what sort of learner a child might be.

As a language learning tip, remember that educators can help in a language classroom by:
  • helping visual learners by providing a visual cue at the same time as another learning style cue (such as auditory or kinesthetic)
  • providing extensive practice and recall opportunities to encourage learners to consolidate their learning into their long term memory, regardless of the learning styles they prefer
  • providing visual cues or prompts to aid memory of visual learners
  • providing visual learners with displays of information that they can take in as their eyes stroll around the room while you are speaking (posters, displays, language learning tip sheets)
  • remembering that any good lesson, regardless of learning styles, includes reminders about what has been covered previously, an outline of upcoming content, and ample revision and practice of skills
  • talking to children about learning styles, and making them aware of the different ways that people often prefer to take in information

Remember that although it is important to develop teaching strategies for visual learners, it is also important to consider if a child in your English language class has a problem with other sensory processing skills which could be masking a more significant problem. For example, some children with a central auditory processing disorder may show a strong preference for visual teaching methods when the real issue is the need to remediate and manage their disorder, not just the need to provide a visual teaching approach.

==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

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