Repetitive Training May Harm Ones with ASD

repitition may not be the best method for teaching children with autism “Repetition is the mother of retention” or so the saying goes. Yet recent studies are showing that this adage doesn’t apply to those on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Why? Because people with ASD have difficulty transferring information from one context to another.

In fact, a study conducted by the Weizmann Institute shows that this repetitive training may make it harder for those with ASD to apply learned knowledge to new situations. After running a series of test on high-functioning ASD adults and a control group, the researchers discovered that the ASD adults could learn the first bit of information, but they couldn’t apply it to the next situation presented to them. All subsequent attempts at teaching them the second piece of information failed. They were unable to learn it.

It’s like they showed ‘hyperspecificity’ of learning – their learning became fixed and inflexible – since learning the first location adversely influenced their ability to learn the second instance,” said Hila Harris, the study’s lead author from the Weizmann Institute.

They then ran a test on a new group of ASD adults and control individuals without the repetitive teaching. “Our conclusion is that breaks in repetition allow the visual system some time to rest and allow autistic individuals to learn efficiently and to then generalize. Repeated stimulation leads to sensory adaptation which interferes with learning and makes learning specific to the adapted conditions. Without adaptation, learning is more efficient and can be generalized,” said New York University’s David Heeger.

The research team believes this has important implications for educating those with autism. They concluded that “incorporates variability from the beginning and promotes learning a broad concept rather than a specific example” works best with the ASD community. They gave the illustration of teaching what a dog is. When they used only one picture of one breed, those with ASD were unable to identify that other breeds were dogs because they were taught initially with a very narrow and specific focus. When they used many pictures of various types of dogs to teach what a dog, then the ASD students were able to understand what a dog is.

Are you having difficulty interacting your ASD family member? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment and we’ll explore all options that are available to help you.

If you’d like to learn more about the science behind Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of ASD) and learn why they do what they do, you’ll find answers in my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD), click on the image below to download a free chapter.

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