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How Does Autism Impact Learning?

Dear Writer,
Our team of researchers have compiled what we believe to be an excellent source of materials for your article on how autism impacts learning. We will be focusing on the learning experience of children with high functioning Autism in grade school (grades 1-12). First, we will briefly outline the the history of conceptualizations and diagnoses of autism. Subsequently, we will present strategies and methods of intervention to improve learning for children with autism. This information will be presented in a non-biased manner as every autistic child is different. Please note all citations directly precede their respective annotation.

All the best,
Ayla, Amila, Laurel, and Nada.

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What is Autism

History

This section will provide background information on when and how autism first gained recognition in the medical/psychological community. We will explore early psychiatrist’s contributions and comments to the still growing field of autism.

Blacher, J., & Christensen, L. (2011). Sowing the seeds of the autism field: Leo kanner (1943). Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 49(3), 172-191. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1352/1934-9556-49.3.172

Leo Kanner (1894–1981) a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University was the first person to describe early infantile autism when he published “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.”. In this publication, Kanner (1943) described his observations on 11 children (8 boys and 3 girls) between the ages 2 and 10 years that he observed from 1938 to 1942. The children demonstrated extreme aloofness and total indifference to other people. In his comments Kanner emphasized that the combination of extreme autism, obsessiveness, stereotypy, and echolalia brings the total picture into relationship with some of the basic schizophrenic phenomena. However, despite remarkable similarities, the condition differs in many respects from all other known instances of childhood schizophrenia. Kanner emphasized in particular the ‘extreme solitude from the very beginning of life’ and the preserved intelligence. Kanner’s term of “infantile autism” first appeared as a diagnostic label in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSMIII). Since then, terminology has changed and diagnostic criteria have broadened.


Autism Spectrum Disorder

In this section we will outline the varying severities of Autism, symptoms and diagnosis. We will provide a detailed outline of the spectrum and the varying degrees of autism. It will be used to present a basic understanding of the disorder. This is essential before we can analyze how children with Autism learn and develop in a classroom setting. All the following subsections have been retrieved from Johnson et al.

Johnson, C. P., & Myers, S. M. (2007). Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders, The American Academy of Pediatrics, 120(5), 1183-1215. doi:http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/120/5/1183.

The Spectrum:

Passive developmental disorders, also known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) consist of five disorders: autism, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. These disorders are marked by their onset in infancy and preschool years.Hallmarks of these disorders include impaired communication and impaired social interaction as well as stereotypic behaviours, interest, and activities. Mental retardation is common. Some children with ASDs show remarkable isolated abilities.

Diagnosis:

Autism is characterized by lifelong marked impairment in reciprocal social interactions, communication, and a restricted range of activities and interests (Table 1-1). Clinical manifestations of the disorder should be present by 3 years of age.

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Symptoms:

The young child may spend hours in solitary play and be socially withdrawn with indifference to attempts at communication. Patients with autism often are not able to understand non-verbal communication (eye contact) and do not interact with people as significantly different from objects. Intense absorbing interest, ritualistic behaviour, and compulsive routines are characteristic, and their disruption invokes tantrum or rage reactions. Head banging, teeth grinding, rocking, diminished responsiveness to pain and external stimuli, and self-mutilation may be noted.

Etiology:

Although the etiology of autistic disorder is unknown, there is an increased risk of autistic disorder in siblings compared with the general population. Common comorbidities are mental retardation (in up to 80%), seizure disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Prevalence:

Approximately 20% of parents report relatively normal development until 1 or 2 years of age, followed by a steady or sudden decline. The prevalence rate for autism is 10 cases per 10,000. Males are affected four to five times more frequently than females. Affected females often have severe mental retardation. Autism is present in equal prevalence among all racial and ethnic groups.

Screening:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for autism at 18 and 24 months of age. Comprehensive testing should be done if there is an affected sibling or parental, other caregiver, or pediatrician concern.


Approaches to Autistic Learning

In this section we will present the social and educational models of classroom structure that are currently available intended to enable children with autism to learn. The benefits and drawbacks of both inclusive and separated education will be outlined.

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Inclusive

Dunlap, G., & Harrower, J. (2001). Including Children with Autism in General Education Classrooms: A Review of Effective Strategies. Behavior Modification, 25(5).

Historically, students with disabilities have been segregated from their peers; however, in the recent past, there has been a shift toward inclusive education. “Including Children with Autism in General Education Classrooms” by Joshua Harrower and Glen Dunlap reviews the current inclusive model that enable children with autism to not only be included in classrooms but be successful learners. Examining research that focuses on both the social and the academic outcomes of inclusive education, this article allows parents and educators to assess the potential benefits and make an informed decision for what is best for their child’s academia. Some of the highlighted points of analysis pertain to the following documented findings on children who have been fully included: “(a) display higher levels of engagement and social interaction, (b) give and receive higher levels of social support, (c) have larger friendship networks, and (d) have developmentally more advanced individualized education plan goals than their counterparts in segregated placements.” This article provides invaluable information on how children with autism can learn when included in a classroom.

Kamps, D. M., Leonard, B., & Potucek, J. (1995). Cooperative learning groups in reading: An integration strategy for students with autism and general classroom peers. Behavioral Disorders, 21(1), 89. doi: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/618795417?accountid=15182.

The transition from isolated to inclusive classrooms involving autistic children has been the focus of many experiments, in an attempt to determine if inclusion is beneficial for the child. Many strategies have been used in order to ensure academic success along with development of social skills, for autistic children in general education classrooms. “Cooperative learning groups in reading: An integration strategy for students with autism and general classroom peers” by Debra Kamps, Betsy Leonard and Jessica Potucek discusses the inclusion of autistic children in general education classrooms, and its potential for improvements in their academic achievement. The article examines experiments in which cooperative learning groups were implemented in inclusive classrooms, and its effects on autistic children. The purpose of the CLG’s were for students to collectively work together to complete tasks, such as worksheets and other small projects. It was found that the academic achievement and engagement in classroom activities increased as a result of the integrated CLG’s. This article is informative to parents, caregivers and educators because it suggests that there are strategies that can be used in inclusive classrooms to promote academic success in autistic children, as well as improving social relationships and communication with peers.

Seperated

Rotheram-Fuller, E. (2006). Age-related changes in the social inclusion of children with autism in general education classrooms. Humanities and Social Sciences, 66(7-A), 2493-2493.

Age-related changes in the social inclusion of children in general education classrooms” examines the different effects of inclusive and separated classrooms on autistic children, in a range of different grades. The research outlines that in younger grades, specifically kindergarten to grade two, autistic children are easily able to create social connections, maintain friendships, and remain active in the social sphere of the classroom without being rejected, or isolated from peers. These positive social connections enable autistic children to succeed in the classroom, and better their learning, as research shows that social connections in the classroom have a positive correlation with academic improvement. However, in contrast, analysis of inclusive classrooms in grades three to five suggest that as the autistic children grow older, they are more separated, and rejected from their peers. With a decrease in social connections in an inclusive classroom, comes the decrease in academic improvement. The research in this journal suggests to parents and educators that inclusive classrooms may only be beneficial for children in grades kindergarten to grade two, and as they get older, separated classrooms, in which autistic children are isolated from their other peers, may be more beneficial for social ties, and overall academic achievement in the classroom.


Psychological Treatment Approaches

This section will present a few of the various treatment options available intended to enable children with autism to thrive in classrooms and in other learning environments. This includes but is not limited to, different strategies to approach children with autism, behavioural correction, learning opportunities, barriers, and effective communication.

ABA

Anagnostou, E., & Hollander, E. (2007). Clinical manual for the treatment of autism (1st ed.). (pp. 153-177). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Clinical Manual for the Treatment of Autism Edited by Eric Hollander and Evdokia Anagnostou provides a pertinent overview of the various treatment options available for people with autism. Most of the contributors to this text actually developed many of the treatments examined, or have conducted studies to determine the safety and the efficacy of said treatments. This book is an essential resource for a broad range of clinicians, educators and family members who are involved in treatment planning. Chapter eight “Applied Behaviour Analysis in the Treatment of Autism” focuses on ABA intervention therapy, how it works, and the advantages and disadvantages of such treatment.
ABA is best known as an applied science that focuses on socially significant issues. It seeks to assess an environment and and how it influences behaviour, while taking into account motivational variables such as hunger and thirst as well as antecedent events such as reward and punishments. This assessment allows ABA practitioners to intervene and modify undesirable behaviours. Behaviour intervention for children with Autism include language and communication, social and play skills, cognitive and academic skills, motor skills, and problem behaviour (Smith et al. 2007). ABA is an effective behavioural modification strategy that helps children with autism learn to behave appropriately in environments such as classrooms thereby enabling them to learn and thrive in an educational setting. The following video is a brief demonstration that illustrates how ABA therapy is conducted.

RDI

Gutstein, S. E., Burgess, A. F., & Montfort, K. (2007). Evaluation of the relationship development intervention program. Autism, 11(5), 397-411. doi:http://aut.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/content/11/5/397.full.pdf+html

Relationship development intervention is a psychological approach used to assist children with autism and implement different strategies to help teach discrete learning opportunities, activities, barriers, and languages used to communicate. In the article Evaluation of the Relationship Development Intervention Program by Steven E. Gutstein, Adurey F. Burgess, and Ken Montfort claim “relationship development intervention is a parent based, cognitive-development approach.”
In this article there was a study performed where children who were considered part of the autism spectrum or who had autism went through a program where they learned different approaches with their caregivers. Over a certain period of time the outcome had very positive results. The article did conclude, “Children who participated in RDI became significantly more socially related, engaged in more reciprocal communication, functional in social school settings with less adult participation, and also were perceived by parents as behaving in a dramatically more flexible and adaptive manner.” (Gustein, Burgess, Montfort; 409) That being said, RDI approaches do work considering how persistent the child with autism is being treated. This is a very good approach to start off with because it gives many different ways of treating a situation. Autism can range from many different scenarios therefore this is designed to accommodate every individual as needed.

Case-Smith, J. (2013). Systematic review of interventions to promote social-emotional development in young children with or at risk for disability. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(4), 395-404. doi: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/psycinfo/docview/1401107697/fulltextPDF/AFB1265308F041CEPQ/1?accountid=15182

RDI approaches are to help parents/caregivers understand and relate/communicate with their child more and promote positive outcomes for a easier childhood and easier on the parents to connect with their autistic child. Some approaches that relationship development intervention uses provided from a Jane Case-Smith article Systematic Review Of Interventions to Promote Social-Emotional Development in Young Children With or at Risk for Disability provides 5 themes that RDI includes. The 5 themes are:

  1. Touch-based interventions to enhance calming and parent-infant bonding
  2. Relationship based interventions to promote positive caregiver-child interactions
  3. Joint attention interventions
  4. Naturalistic preschool interventions to promote peer-to-peer engagement
  5. Instruction-based interventions to teach children appropriate social behaviours

Touch Based Interventions:
Touch based interventions help the child and caregiver connect in a way to create bonding, calming, and physiological stability.

Relationship Based Interventions:
In relationship-based interventions, therapists focus on specific strategies to improve adult-child interaction; key ingredients appear to be sensitive responding to the child and positive affect.

Joint Attention Interventions:
The joint attention intervention focuses on the ability to share attention when engaged in an activity, it is a high-level skill and critical to social interaction.

Interventions to Promote Peer-to-Peer Engagement:
This intervention promotes children to play in a natural environment where they can interact with other children and engage in different activities; this teaches children to communicate with one another without forcing it among them.

Instruction Based Intervention:
Instruction-based interventions are used to reduce children’s disruptive and negative behaviors and teach children social competence. For example appropriate peer interaction during play). These interventions include providing social scripts or social stories and practicing social skills in small groups. Each method is designed for specific social situations and includes positive reinforcement.

Relationship development intervention is an extremely positive reinforcement among children with autism. These kinds of themes that were talked about are great ways to improve a child’s experience and actions in a learning environment for the better. By using these different methods of treatment extreme changes can be made over a period of time.

Sensory Therapies

Sensory integration therapies for children with developmental and behavioral disorders. (2012). Pediatrics, 129(6), 1186-1189. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2012-0876

Sensory therapy is a therapeutic approach for children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. This approach takes more of a cognitive approach and integrating therapy with sensory skills. In the article written by a group of pediatrics Sensory Integration Therapies for Children with Developmental and Behavioral Disorders claims that; “Sensory-based therapies involve activities that are believed to organize the sensory system by providing vestibular, proprioceptive, auditory, and tactile inputs” (Pediatrics, p.1186). Sensory therapy helps children learn and adapt to sensory stimuli out in the environment that may trigger a behavior or reaction in some negative way. This is known as sensory processing disorders. Sensory processing disorders are classified into three different patterns. The three patterns are:

  1. Sensory modulation disorder
    • Over responsive
    • Under- responsive
    • Sensory seeking/craving subtypes
  2. Sensory discrimination disorder
  3. Sensory-based motor disability
    • Postural disorder and dyspraxia

It is difficult to assess the measure of sensory processing disorders in general. Sensory processing disorders may range from very low to very high with different individuals.


Support Systems

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The pressures and strains of looking after a child with autism must not be overlooked in the discourse of this subject. This section will present different support systems available to families of autistic children intended to facilitate a stress-free, enjoyable child rearing experience.

Randall, P., & Parker, J. (1999). Supporting the Families of Children with Autism. (pp. 33-60). Chichester, New York: Wiley.

This book outlines the importance of providing psychological support for families with autistic children. Chapter two, “Families' Needs: Met and Unmet” specifically focuses on the distinct struggles and demands of the family unit. Several coping strategies are presented with variations for fathers, mothers, and siblings of autistic children. Additionally, the authors provide several case studies that examine the lived experience of individual families. This not only provides readers with insight as to how other families in similar situations manage, but a sense of comfort and solidarity in their difficult circumstance. This book is a particularly valuable resource to the families of children with autism but also to a range of professionals such as educators, social workers and psychologists who deal with both children with autism and their families.

Carter, A. M. (2004). Stress reduction for parents of children with autism: A comparison of stress inoculation training and social support. Theses Global. doi:http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/305115584?accountid=15182

Alena Mae Carter’s, “Stress Reduction for Parents of Children: A comparison of stress inoculation training and social support” discusses the challenges and stress faced by parents of autistic children, analyzes two methods of group therapy, and discusses the impact of these therapeutic methods on the parents. The author discusses SIT (Stress Inoculation Training) as a method for coping with the stresses of raising an autistic child. This method includes three phases with the main goal of the therapy to create skills for each individual to deal with their stress. Although rarely used in cases specific to parents raising autistic children, this method indeed helped parents cope with their situation. The article also discusses the conservative, social group therapy settings, which have proven to be beneficial for managing stress in the past. The author explains that when compared, although both methods are effective, the social group setting is more effective in reducing stress. This article is a very valuable source to parents and caregivers, as raising a child with autism can be very difficult. It offers possible methods of coping and overcoming the stresses that accompany raising an autistic child.


Works Cited

Anagnostou, E., & Hollander, E. (2007). Clinical manual for the treatment of autism (1st ed.). (pp. 153-177). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Blacher, J., & Christensen, L. (2011). Sowing the seeds of the autism field: Leo kanner (1943). Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 49(3),172-191. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1352/1934-9556-49.3.172

Carter, A. M. (2004). Stress reduction for parents of children with autism: A comparison of stress inoculation training and social support. Theses Global. doi: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/305115584?accountid=15182

Case-Smith, J. (2013). Systematic review of interventions to promote social-emotional development in young children with or at risk for disability. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(4), 395-404. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2013.004713

Dunlap, G., & Harrower, J. (2001). Including children with autism in general education classrooms: A review of effective strategies. Behavior Modification, 25(5). doi: 10.1177/0145445501255006

Gutstein, S. E., Burgess, A. F., & Montfort, K. (2007). Evaluation of the relationship development intervention program. Autism, 11(5), 397-411.

Johnson, C. P., & Myers, S. M. (2007). Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders, The American Academy of Pediatrics, 120(5), 1183-1215. doi:http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/120/5/1183.

Kamps, D. M., Leonard, B., & Potucek, J. (1995). Cooperative learning groups in reading: An integration strategy for students with autism and general classroom peers. Behavioral Disorders, 21(1), 89. doi: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/618795417?accountid=15182.

Mahoney, G., & Perales, F. (2003). Using relationship-focused intervention to enhance the social-emotional functioning of young children with autism spectrum disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23(2), 77.

Myrtle Beach National. (2008, Jan 31). Autism Therapy –ABA [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbVG8lYEsNs

Randall, P., & Parker, J. (1999). Supporting the Families of Children with Autism. (pp. 33-60). Chichester, New York: Wiley.

Rotheram-Fuller, E. (2006). Age-related changes in the social inclusion of children with autism in general education classrooms. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A. Humanities and Social Sciences, 66(7-A), 2493-2493. doi: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/621558826?accountid=15182

Sensory integration therapies for children with developmental and behavioral disorders. (2012). Pediatrics, 129(6), 1186-1189. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2012-0876

Yamamoto, J., & Kusumoto, C. (2007). Development and support for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Cognitive Studies. Bulletin of the Japanese Cognitive Science Society, 14(4), 621-639.

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