Sep 102013

For Kids with Autism Social Skills Are A Challenge

There is a fascinating new study out, which shows children with high functioning autism demonstrate improving autism social skills over time. 

John Foxe, Ph.D., says the evidence “suggests that whatever is broken can be fixed.” He speculates that if we can provide targeted multisensory integration therapies, we may be able to help children with autism by improving social skills at an earlier age.

The study, conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, included over 230 children from ages 6 to 18 and showed that children diagnosed with high functioning autism demonstrate improving social skills in their mid-teens.

The evidence indicates a severe multisensory integration deficit of visual and auditory information in young children with high functioning autism, but as the children mature, their ability to integrate multisensory inputs improves significantly.

The child’s processing abilities mature, which allows them to separate speech from noisy backgrounds.

Dr. John Foxe explains the study very well here (YouTube video opens in new window):

Outgrowing a Communication Disability of Autism

High Functioning Autism and Education

As an instructional designer, this study leads me to wonder if children with autism anywhere on the spectrum would learn and function a lot better in a highly controlled, quiet learning environment, where no other noise inputs need to be processed.

If a child with high functioning autism is taught one-on-one at home, where every extraneous noise (the hum of computers, ticking clocks, the hum of fluorescent lights used in schools, etc.) can be eliminated, will the child learn better? My guess is the child would definitely learn better, just like the autism social skills changes.

What we need now is a study to determine if a large, sound-proof environment where children with high functioning autism could be taught would enable them to function without stresses typically associated with classroom environments. The room would have to be sufficiently large to keep the child from feeling like they’re being isolated, but sound proof with the exception of the individual student, maybe a few classmates, and a teacher.

Homeschooling High Functioning Autism

We’ve had a couple of friends who have homeschooled children with high functioning autism with great success. Given the high intellectual ability of high functioning children with autism, it is therefore not surprising that the children would excel in the homeschool, one-on-one teaching environment where fewer sounds have to be integrated. This study says to me that children with high functioning autism might have their learning needs met best when taught at home. Perhaps, over time, schools might be more willing to support home placements for the educational portion of a high functioning child’s day, with school-provided educational materials for children with high functioning autism.

Improving autism social skills could be integrated into the child’s day by providing the child with school-based multisensory integration therapy in conjunction with participation in activities such as sports, clubs, etc. where learning is not the primary goal.

Creativity in educational provisioning is needed to support the educational needs of uniquely gifted individuals who have high functioning autism, or autism anywhere on the spectrum.