How Autistic Children Develop and Learn?

Abstract

The research that will be done will focus on children and autism. It seeks to study how autism affects children’s development and how children affected by this syndrome can be assisted to learn. To successfully do this, it will deal with questions like; how is autism related to the development of children? Does the severity of autism amongst children vary in terms of age and sex? Do teachers influence how autistic children behave socially?

The hypotheses to be tested include; autism has a multifaceted impact on the development of children, the parent-teachers association is crucial in the development of social behavior in autistic children. The research process is designed in terms of introducing the problem of autism amongst children, carrying out a literature review to determine what other research activities have revealed about the experience of children with autism. Furthermore, the research process will be carried out in such a manner in which it adheres to social principles and ethics.

Introduction

Every child is unique and develops and learns in different ways and rates. Early years practitioners can only support children’s individual learning and development if they know about their personalities, interests, developmental levels, skills, and learning dispositions. Dispositions must be included among the goals of early childhood education. The first five years are critical in a child’s growth and development. This is the time that a child learns some of the basic things in life such as communication, reading, writing and being independent. He also learns to take care of his hygiene and health. This is the time when the parent and practitioner should join hands in bringing up the child.

It is not always the case that children will develop expectedly. There are times when their mental and physical development results in difficult behavior. Autism is one of these difficult behaviors that result from disturbing development. At first sight, it is very easy to distinguish an autistic child from a normal one because they appear to be different even from children with the common kinds of childhood disabilities. However, some of the problems depicted by children with autism can be found in other handicapped children especially those whose perception and language development are impaired.

If parents can accept the situation that their children are in, then it is easier to deal with the situation and treat their handicapped children just like other normal children who need a home, love, and care, family, security, and an opportunity to develop his talents and skills. Each autistic child is unique with a unique personality which helps him/her react to the handicaps. It is for this reason that parents and teachers who understand this type of handicap and who work with these children do not like to refer to them as autistic because this will imply that the handicap is the only thing that matters. Some children suffer from this condition in their early childhood while others develop it as they grow.

Problem Statement

Several research studies have been conducted on autism in children but very little has been done on how children affected by this syndrome can be assisted to learn. The research activities have mainly focused on autism in general and have not done much concerning how autistic children learn. To fill the gap, this research study intends to thoroughly examine how teachers play an important role in the development of autistic children. The research itself will be important in finding out how children with autism behave and how different they are from children with other handicaps. Specifically, the research will be crucial to government institutions planning to participate in helping autistic children to cope with life.

Research Questions

The research questions that will guide the study process are:

  1. How is autism related to the development of children?
  2. When was autism recognized as a special handicap in children?
  3. How the severity of autism amongst children vary in terms of age and sex
  4. How does the parents-teachers association affect the social development of autism children?
  5. How does the school experience affect the development of autistic children?

Definitions

One problem experienced when writing about autistic children because doctors and other professional people differ in their use of words when describing autism in children. These words or phrases are defined below

  1. Childhood psychosis- this refers to the conditions when a child behaves strangely and unpredictably considering his age and intelligence level. This term covers a wide pattern of the behavior portrayed by handicapped children autism being one of them or perhaps the most common.
  2. Severe emotional disturbance- this refers to excesses or deficits in the behavior of autistic children. It is the pattern of behavior that differs significantly from the expected.
  3. Non-communicating children- This is children who are not able to communicate verbally. Some autistic children even have difficulties in the use of sign language.
  4. Exceptional children- these are children who differ from the norm to a large extent such that they require special education and other services for them to benefit from education.

Literature Review

Autistic children have been in existence for centuries although they were recognized as a separate group from other mentally handicapped children in 1943 by professor Kanner. Since then, many professors and researchers have developed an interest in these children. They have come up with many different theories as to the causes of the problem and have been able to observe the behavior of these children in detail.

As a result of these studies, many workers have concluded that Kanner’s early childhood autism is not a separate condition since many children do not show the full syndrome although they have autistic features (Furneaux & Elgar, 1977). These are exceptional children who have the same needs for special education and management just like autistic children although it is hard to recognize them. Therefore, it is hard to estimate the number of children with autism which makes it difficult in the provision of services for this special group of children.

The first association for parent and interested professional for autism were set up in 1962 in the United Kingdom and since then many associations have been formed in different countries of the world (Furneaux, & Elgar, 1977). These associations have been working on ways of recognizing the problem, its early diagnosis, better services and better education opportunities for children suffering from autism. After many years of research, it became clear that most of the children suffering from autism would have to live and work in sheltered settings for their entire lives and it is upon the voluntary societies to develop residential centers to cater to adults with autism and other related conditions. Some progress has been made in the provision of such services although there is yet much to be done.

At first, Kanner believed autism to be an inborn condition but later observed that even children who appeared to have a normal development would develop the same syndrome after one year or two. Other researchers found out that children with three or four years would also develop the syndrome and that’s why it is known as childhood autism as opposed to infantile autism as Kanner had found out.

It has been found that children can develop psychoses even after the age of five although these seem to be different from those developed in early childhood. Some of the psychiatric conditions observed in adult life include mania, psychotic depression, and schizophrenia (Notbohm, 2005). These problems are difficult to find in cases where childhood psychoses are common. The number of boys affected by autism is higher than the number of girls; it is estimated that four times more boys than girls are affected by classic autistic.

A teacher’s role in helping autistic children achieve their full potential becomes easy if the child has been taught how to behave socially. This includes how to feed, wash, dress, and to keep himself clean throughout the day. However, the teacher has to start by teaching these skills to ensure that all children are at the same level. After establishing the basic behavior, the teacher can go-ahead to teach other basic things. The teaching methods used should be adopted as per the children’s handicaps, and many techniques for blindness, speech disorders, and deafness have to be used. The use of Montessori equipment has been proved to be a good instrument in teaching autistic children because much of it gives children the opportunity of using touch and movement for learning.

Other teaching methods include; teaching motor skills by guiding the child’s limbs, use of pictures and diagrams to put an idea more clearly (Notbohm, 2005). Teachers of such specialized children should maximize the use of action without solely depending upon words. Some words such as ‘sit’ or ‘stand’ should be accompanied by real action to help the children understand the meaning of such words. In some cases, teachers are advised to use objects or animals in the classrooms when they are referring to them. For instance, instead of drawing a bird, the teacher can go with a live bird to the classroom to ease the understanding of the children.

Some subjects taught in special schools are similar to the ones taught in the normal school curriculum, for instance, reading, writing, arithmetic, cooking, and music, among others. The only difference is that most autistic school caters for a wide range of abilities and only a few children can move on to wider subjects while others acquire only a few skills. The majority of autistic children are very handicapped in learning, but being in school helps them to improve on the ability to deal with life.

A good teacher is one who knows when to watch and wait, and when to use pressure in a child’s learning. He should be able to encourage the child and how to make use of every opportunity that comes his way to ensure that a child does not lag in school (Wing, 1985). The school experience is important in a child’s learning because it provides a structured environment for children to socialize with others. Events such as school outings, birthday parties, and daily assembly, give a pattern of life that makes the children feel comfortable.

A successful school should be one that develops a tradition of reasonable behavior which helps even the emotionally disturbed children to become calmer and co-operate more. Research has found that autistic children are significantly influenced by the social pressures in schools, although they seem to ignore other children (Wenner, 2009). It is therefore important for a parent to observe the social competence that can be acquired in a school before deciding what is the right kind of school to enroll his child in.

A teacher is one of the members that should help autistic children cope with the handicaps. He has to work with the parent, doctors, and psychologists to help such children. He also has to have a wide knowledge and experience related to normal child development to monitor the progress of autistic children. By listening to the parents, he should be in a position to learn more about the children’s behavior at home which acts as a good basis to help the children in the school. Methods of management that are effective in the school environment can also be used at home and problems discussed to find possible solutions.

A parent is a first and best teacher for the child and it is, therefore, necessary to have a parent-teacher association in helping children to learn. Such an association provides a good opportunity for co-operation between home and school which enhances the child’s learning. A good teacher should extend his knowledge in helping parents who have already lost hope or those who do not know how to care for their children (Wing, 1985). Such encouragement can help the parent to accept her child’s condition and take part in the child’s learning.

All autistic children, regardless of their level of intelligence, have the same underlying handicap but some children can develop the cognitive capacity to learn how to socialize which enables them to compensate for their handicaps. This proves that participation in and tolerance of social interaction tends to increase with age and can be assisted by carefully managed exposure to social situations. Some researchers have found out that intelligent autistic children learn appropriate behavior differently as compared to non-autistic children.

One of the most common characteristics in almost all autistic children is that of eye gaze. It has been found that young autistic children show marked visual avoidance. However, as they mature, eye contact tends to occur more often, but its timing is abnormal. The autistic person is not able to communicate appropriately with the eye gaze. Sometimes, he may look too closely or for too long into the eyes of another person and other times he may not look at all. It has also been noted that autistic children hardly use gestures for communication, unlike deaf children who use them as a substitute for speech. Some attempts have been made to teach autistic children how to use sign languages, but with very little success. Those children who can learn some of the obvious signs tend to copy them when prompted but hardly use them (Bowles, 2010).

Plays form the basis for the development of speech, language, and communication in a child. Through plays, an autistic child can imagine and act in different roles that help him to be creative as he develops his communication skills. The children’s communication, language and literacy skills are supported by stories, conversations, nursery rhymes, and songs happening in several activities. They also develop an understanding of numeric when counting the dots on the dice and learn about science when observing insects, talking about animals and playing with water.

Through a variety of art, music, movement and dance activities, the children’s creativity is being extended (Wenner, 2009). Communication plays a great role in a child’s social interaction and education. It is through communication that a child identifies her/himself and gets the nerve to interact with others. Adults influence the growth and development of children. As a parent or a practitioner, one is supposed to help these children grow and recognize their potential in life. Children cannot learn how to communicate unless they are guided by adults. This can be through reciting of small phrases, songs, and mastery of the alphabets.

Parents’ participation is important in the child’s growth in communication. They should work hand in hand with the teachers to ensure continuity in the child’s education. According to Bowles (2010), “Most babies are born with good hearing and the ability to discriminate sounds such as their mother’s voice, familiar television theme tunes, and voices of siblings. They can also distinguish the sound system of the language of their own family from that of an unfamiliar language”. They argued that right from birth a child gets a sense of communication as he expresses himself to the parent through various means like crying, facial expressions, and smiling. At this point, the child is deriving confidence in the best person to share his frustration. If this is well done the child in later life is more likely to share issues of life with the right people because it was instilled initially in him during his early age.

Conclusion

Autism is a mental disorder that affects children; mostly below the age of five years. Some children are born with the syndrome while others develop it as they grow. Autistic children are exception children who require special care and attention which can only be found in special schools. They are non-communicating children who are not able to communicate verbally or use gestures. They differ from other handicapped children in that they cannot use sign language, gestures or facial expressions to communicate.

They, therefore, require special attention which can be given by parents and teachers. Parents have a big role to play in the development of the children. They are the first teachers to the child and should, therefore, assist their children in role-plays. Teachers also have a great role to play when it comes to the development of language and communication in autistic children. They should involve them in imaginative plays and storytelling. This does not only help the child to develop his communication skills but also his social interactions improve and he can appreciate and respect other children.

Reference List

Bowles, C. (2010). Importance of Language Development. Web.

Furneaux, B. & Elgar, S. (1977). Autistic Children: Teaching, Community, and Research Approaches. London: Routledge.

Notbohm, E. (2005). Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew. Arlington: Future Horizons.

Wenner, M. (2009). The Serious Need for Play. Web.

Wing, L. (1985). Autistic Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. New York: Psychology Press.