Learning Styles and Autism
Vou Akinsehinwa November 2017
Learning styles is a concept that describes the methods or styles by which people learn or gain an education or information about things around them. A child’s learning style affects how well the child performs in an educational setting. Therefore, it is important that educators assess for learning style as soon as an autistic child enters the school system and that they adapt their teaching styles with the strengths of the child. This will ensure that the autistic child has the greatest chance for success in school. There are different learning styles but the common ones include:
Visual Learners: These are children that learn better and easier by seeing. If an autistic child enjoys looking at books (e.g. picture books), watching television (with or without sound), and tends to look carefully at people and objects, then he/she may be a visual learner. The teacher should colour code information, draw thing or allow the child to draw mind maps or what he understands a particular information means. Use a lot of graphics, pictures and videos to teach. When information is heavily texted, use outlines to breakdown such information. Always avoid things to do with rote memorization and always allow time for the child to reflect on what he has learnt.
Auditory Learners: This group of learners learns through listening and speaking. They will need to hear information to be able to process and comprehend as well as have the opportunity to reinforce that information by saying it. The auditory learner enjoys actively participating in discussions, both in small groups and as a whole class, he remembers experiences and information in detail, such as names, places, dates, etc.
The teacher with an auditory learner should always remember that the child learns by sound, is able to process information and instructions or content without writing it down. One common problem evidenced by autistic children is running around the classroom and not listening to the teacher. Such children may not be auditory learners; and thus, he/she is not attending to the teacher’s words.
Kinesthetic or tactile learners (‘hands-on’ learning): These are the children who prefer to connect what they are learning with real-life experiences. They benefit from the concreteness of what is presented to them. Kinesthetic learning is using one’s hands and doing an activity, like learning about computers by actually playing around with a computer. However, kinesthetic learners also benefit from just thinking of how concepts are applicable in the real world. If an autistic child is constantly taking things apart, opening and closing drawers, and pushing buttons, this may indicate that the child is a kinesthetic or ‘hands-on’ learner.
Teaching to the learning style of an autistic child will make an impact on whether or not the child can attend to and process the information which is presented. This, in turn, can affect the child’s performance in school as well as his/her behavior. Generally, most people learn using two to three learning styles. While it may appear that autistic individuals are more likely to rely on only one style of learning, they are well capable of combining two or more like their typical counterparts.