Teaching the Visually-Oriented Student on the Autism Spectrum

Despite difficulties with eye contact, most children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are visual learners. Visual learners need to see the information. The whiteboard, texts for reading, or information on the computer all help these children succeed in the classroom.

It's important to distinguish that some visual learners prefer the written form of the language (e.g., a book that explains grammar or vocabulary). This preference is similar to an “analytical approach.” Other visual learners prefer diagrams or charts that illustrate grammar or vocabulary. This preference is similar to a “global approach.” Both types of visual learners may need to write down information in order to remember it. 

Although some teachers believe notes aid memory, visual learners see notes as a prerequisite to memory. In other words, if they don't write down the information and/or draw charts and diagrams, then they won't remember the information.

Information or ideas heard may not be retained as well as if the Aspergers or HFA child had been able to take notes. Visual learners should be allowed to write notes or draw charts and diagrams in the class, perhaps with the teacher providing a minute or two after an explanation or presentation to take down the information. Longer recall times to activate the language will prove necessary if visual imagery doesn't accompany explanations.

The 7 learning styles:
  1. Aural (auditory-musical): Student prefers using sound and music.
  2. Logical (mathematical): Student prefers using logic, reasoning and systems.
  3. Physical (kinesthetic): Student prefers using his/her body, hands and sense of touch.
  4. Social (interpersonal): Student prefers to learn in groups or with other people.
  5. Solitary (intrapersonal): Student prefers to work alone and use self-study.
  6. Verbal (linguistic): Student prefers using words, both in speech and writing. 
  7. Visual (spatial): Student prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn. Researchers using brain-imaging technologies have been able to find out the key areas of the brain responsible for each learning style. For example: 
  1. Aural: The temporal lobes handle aural content. The right temporal lobe is especially important for music.
  2. Logical: The parietal lobes, especially the left side, drive our logical thinking.
  3. Physical: The cerebellum and the motor cortex (at the back of the frontal lobe) handle much of our physical movement.
  4. Social: The frontal and temporal lobes handle much of our social activities. The limbic system also influences both the social and solitary styles. The limbic system has a lot to do with emotions, moods and aggression.
  5. Solitary: The frontal and parietal lobes, and the limbic system, are also active with this style.
  6. Verbal: The temporal and frontal lobes.
  7. Visual: The occipital lobes at the back of the brain manage the visual sense. Both the occipital and parietal lobes manage spatial orientation.

Teachers should remember the following when working with Aspergers and HFA students:

1. Flashcards with pictures and/or words are an excellent tool for visual students. If flashcards aren't available, then the child can make his own. Alternatively, when encountering new words, the child can picture the object in his/her head.

2. Listening skills are a primary component of oral communication. Extra opportunities should be given to build listening ability, with many opportunities for visual learners to hear and process the information.

3. Visual students may struggle with pronunciation, intonation, tone, register, and other aural skills.

4. The child with Aspergers or HFA tends to have the following traits:

•    Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
•    Creates unique methods of organization
•    Develops own methods of problem solving
•    Develops quite asynchronously
•    Enjoys geometry and physics
•    Generates unusual solutions to problems
•    Has good long-term visual memory
•    Has visual strengths
•    Is a good synthesizer
•    Is a late bloomer
•    Is a whole-part learner
•    Is better at math reasoning than computation
•    Is creatively, mechanically, emotionally, or technologically gifted
•    Is turned off by drill and repetition
•    Is very sensitive to teachers’ attitudes
•    Learns best by seeing relationships
•    Learns complex concepts easily, but struggles with easy skills
•    Learns concepts all at once
•    Learns concepts permanently
•    Learns whole words easily
•    Masters other languages through immersion
•    May have very uneven grades
•    Must visualize words to spell them
•    Prefers keyboarding to writing
•    Reads maps well
•    Relates well to space
•    Sees the big picture, but may miss details
•    Thinks primarily in pictures

5. The child with Aspergers or HFA tends NOT to have the following traits:

•    Attends well to details
•    Can show steps of work easily
•    Can sound out spelling words
•    Can write quickly and neatly
•    Develops fairly evenly
•    Excels at rote memorization
•    Follows oral directions well
•    Has auditory strengths
•    Has good auditory short-term memory
•    Is a step-by-step learner
•    Is an analytical thinker
•    Is an early bloomer
•    Is comfortable with one right answer
•    Is well-organized
•    Learns by trial and error
•    Learns in spite of emotional reactions
•    Learns languages in class
•    Learns phonics easily
•    Learns well from instruction
•    May need some repetition to reinforce learning
•    Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material
•    Relates well to time
•    Thinks primarily in words

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

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