I Have Autism and I Can Learn
Autism is a condition that affects children's social interaction and psychological flexibility. However, with early and appropriate care, these youngsters can learn and develop fully.
Every April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated to make people more aware of this condition and to fight for the rights of those who suffer from it. This year – under the slogan “I can learn. I can work” – the aim is to improve these people’s access to quality education and decent employment, as stigma still limits their development. Therefore, let us be the voice of all these little ones: “I have autism and I can learn.”
Quite often, due to a lack of knowledge, there’s a misconception about this disorder. The intelligence tests that experts generally use don’t really capture these people’s latent capacities.
Of course, we have to take into account that this is a very heterogeneous condition, so it’s not possible to generalize. However, all children with autism have strengths and abilities, and they can all certainly learn.
Autism is a neurological and developmental condition that begins to show itself in childhood and accompanies the person throughout his or her life. It mainly affects social interaction and flexibility in thinking and behavior.
However, there’s enormous variability among people suffering from this condition. That’s why the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” has been created, referring to a continuum rather than a category.
To a greater or lesser extent, most people can recognize the main characteristics of autism:
- Disinterest in social interactions and difficulty in initiating and maintaining them.
- Poor eye contact and trouble perceiving and understanding other people’s mental conditions.
- Repetitive behavior, restricted interests, excessive rigidity, and attachment to routines.
- Sensory integration problems, suffering from exposure to loud noises, bright lights, or crowds.
Because of all of these factors, children with autism have major integration problems in the classroom and in society. It often seems that they’re unable to learn because of the fact that they don’t learn in the same way as others, but these children have great strengths:
- They pay close attention to detail and use very logical thinking.
- They often show great interest in a specific area, studying it in depth, accumulating great knowledge about it, and often becoming very competent in it.
- Very often, they think about in an independent way that allows them to bring new and unique perspectives.
- They experience difficulties in processing information verbally or audibly, but function well with visual processing (from images or video).
Children with autism are capable of learning, and enjoying a full and dignified life. For them to do this, it’s essential to establish a diagnosis as soon as possible. This will allow them to have access to quality care early on.
Children who start receiving help at an early age can make great strides. Interventions are usually aimed at improving their social skills and abilities, and facilitating their adaptation to the educational environment. They’ll need an individualized evaluation in order to get to know the child’s strengths.
If the child is better able to handle visual processing, then it will be very beneficial to accompany the instructions with images. Similarly, if they show a clear interest in reading, then this can serve as a starting point to establish a bond of trust and to bring them closer to their peers through an activity that they like and are good at.
We need to provide them with an environment they feel comfortable in, and which is appropriate to their priorities and needs. It’s important that the groups aren’t too large and that they receive sufficient and suitable attention from the teachers. The teachers also need to offer them challenges according to their abilities.
If we demand certain achievements from them, then they may become overwhelmed and frustrated. However, if we provide them with excessive support, then we’ll be limiting their autonomous development. It’s all a question of finding a balance.
Empathy, positive reinforcement, consistency, and early intervention will greatly enhance these children’s learning. Families, health, and education professionals must join forces to offer these children access to a diverse and adapted education that will allow them to develop their full potential.