||FACT-BASED INFORMATION AUTISM INFORMATION: Cognitive Developmental Domain
This includes the growth, change, stability and diversity of our individual mental processes and ones ability to store, utilize and transform internal and external information in order to learn, think and communicate.
How does Autism impact a person's cognitive functioning?
People with, and without, Autism vary widely in our cognitive ability and profiles. Human cognition involves the perception, processing, acquisition, retrieval, transformation, use and exchange of knowledge. The significant biological impact and serious neurological symptoms of Autism are then clearly expressed in how people with Autism characteristically think and behave and particularly in how we may struggle to learn to communicate with ourselves and others in more typical ways. Our capacities for focusing and shifting our attention, using our memory structures to learn new information, the use of language in functional and most often social communitication, our sensory and visual spatial processing, and particularly our the executive function of our minds, which organize all those capacities in meaningful ways may be effected in early childhood, and most often across our full life spans, particularly in comparison to our typical age-mates. Some of the effects may create mental disabilities, and others will create atypical mental capacities that may or may not be use-able. This highly heterogeneous profile of each person and all people with Autism is what differentiates our cognitive group.
All of these cognitive issues directly relate to how a person learns and functions as a child and an adult. Many people with Autism have difficulty processing sensory stimuli and verbal input and using this internal and external information in organized ways to create a typical and/or functional understanding of the world around us. Therefore, the characteristic cognitive strengths and weaknesses of people with Autism are directly reflected in the quality and quantity of the knowledge, awareness, skills, and abilities we may acquire and so, our thinking and functional behaviors as well.
How does Autism impact a person's capacity to learn in more typical and fully able ways?
Visual and verbal communication capacities have been shown to affect 90% of learning (and therefore also teaching), and underlie most of the complex and higher information processing and memory functions of the brain. While about half of all people with Autism may develop spoken verbal skills and test as having intact intellectual abilities, it is often still the poor organization of our thinking and reasoning that interferes most with the learning potential, communication skills, functional and/or social abilities of most members across the spectrum of Autism. This means that developing forms of mutually successful communication is a critical educational outcome for both individuals with Autism and our adult providers.
Regardless of having or lacking verbal language abilities or being or not being mentally retarded, people with Autism often have great difficulty understanding the power and generalizing the functions of our own communication capacities, particularly across new people and settings. In turn, it is difficult for typical verbal providers to quickly gain and maintain a fully competent understanding of, and fluency in, the nonverbal communication systems which some people with Autism may need to learn up to our fullest potentials. While only a small percentage of people with Autism develop the fully generalized communication abilities and fully social dialog skills of a typical adult, successfully establishing mutually understandable communication systems that are mutually understand-able and functionally use-able is a powerful support to creating social bridges between people with and without Autism. This means that the life-span education and adult vocational preparation of both people with and without Autism need to be highly individualized and directed towards the careers that match well with our individual communication needs, work interests and social abilities in relation to ourselves and each other.
How can we help people with Autism who may have these cognitive problems?
Similar to typical children, students with Autism directly benefit from, and need developmentally appropriate and minimally adequate-to-optimumally effective educational interventions. Inappropriate or inadequate educational services have been shown to negatively impact people with Autism not only in terms of reaching our full potentials, but inadequate or inappropriate services may put us at serious risk of developing problems that can interfere with our being able to function in the world across all our life spans. In addition they are less cost effective in the long run.
Earlier and more intensive behavioral and/or developmental Autism best-practice interventions founded on universal best practices have been shown to produce the most positive long term educational results and help people with Autism improve our neurological and cognitive functions, and also realize more of our our communication potentials. But, just as with typical people, services that can directly support cognitive development and adaptive communication system skills can benefit those of us with Autism across the full spectrum, throughout our lives, and at any age. Therefore, providing needed structures of cognitive supports and communication systems to all people with Autism, starting today, is what matters. There are a number of well-established behavioral and developmental model approaches to educational and therapuetic Autism intervention available. You can find information on those in the green column links back at the homepage table.
A.D.A.P.T. Training Series. Copyright © 2000-03 by Sharone Lee. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All names, concepts, methods, materials, products and publications are protected by trademark and copyright, and no part of this text or this web page may be reproduced or distributed in any manner, for any purpose, including educational purposes, without express written consent from: THRESHOLD SALEM, OREGON 503-375-9462 email@example.com. Portions originally published in the 1999 Fall Issue and 2002 Complimentary Edition of The Net Journal of the Autism Society of Oregon, with the Author's permission.