Cognitive impairments often affect the ability for learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder to think literal, understand abstract concepts, use their imagination, and organize information or classwork (Asaro-Saddler, 2016). The three most common impairments for neurological symptoms are motor impairments, sleep disorders, and epilepsy (Jeste, 2012). A motor impairment may have various visual indicators displayed differently for each individual. Perhaps repetitive movements are displayed, such as hand flapping, rocking, ritualistic behaviors, walking in circles, and/or spinning. Likewise, the learner may have abnormal gait presentations, toe walking, difficulty with fine/gross motor activities, or even demonstrate the inability to motor plan (Jeste, 2012). Additionally, sleep disorders are a common impairment that affects up to 83% of children with ASD and it is reported that epilepsy affects up to one-third of this population (Jeste, 2012).
Learners with ASD often demonstrate a behavioral component and sensory sensitivities. It has been estimated that around 90% of learners with autism spectrum disorder display a sensory sensitivity (Dovydaitiene, Vaitiekute, & Nasvytiene, 2013). The sensory system is the body’s response to the environment where stimulation is being experienced. Whether this is through the auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory or the taste senses (Jasmin, Couture, McKinley, Reid, Fombonne, & Gisel 2009). In the classroom, researchers discovered that the auditory and tactile sensory modalities were the most impacted for learners with ASD (Fernandez-Andres, Pastor-Cerezuela, Sanz-Cervera, & Tarraga-Minguez, 2015). When the learner is impacted by a sensory impairment, and the sensory need is not addressed, then behaviors will emerge. The body will begin to react with inappropriate responses unless the sensory overload is reduced through proprioceptive and/or vestibular input (Jasmin et al., 2009).
So how can parents and teachers help learners overcome these challenges? It is suggested that evidence-based practices be used to help learners who struggle with sensory and cognitive delays. An evidence-based practice is a specific approach to teaching that is used in an applied situation or environment that produces an effective outcome (Sam, Kucharczyk, & Waters, 2018). Educators are encouraged to use EBP’s in the classroom to emphasize good teaching practices and to maximize successful outcomes for learners.
One such evidence-based practice in the area of social skills, communication and behavior is video modeling. Research has revealed that video modeling has a 90% improvement rate with behaviors related to social skills (Ledford, King, Harbin, & Zimmerman, 2018). A video would be created demonstrating the appropriate skill wanting to be taught. Whether that is a proper greeting to a peer, brushing teeth, or even a response to completing class work, the video would demonstrate that skill. The learner would watch the video, talk about the video if they were able to, and re-enact what is demonstrated on the video. The video can be watched multiple times to confirm and reinforce the appropriate skill (Ledford, King, Harbin, & Zimmerman, 2018).
As far as using evidence-based strategies for sensory sensitivities; a multi-sensory approach has been proven to be an effective method to use with learners with ASD (Thompson, 2011). Multi-sensory entails using the various senses that the body encounters. Learning can take place by seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, and touching information in the environment. A sensory profile can help the educator identify the sensory need. Whether the learner is a sensory seeker, under responder, or an over responder, the protocol developed can be implemented demonstrating successful results. Some types of input for the sensory systems may look like proprioceptive or vestibular input. This is the movement (vestibular) or pressure (proprioceptive) systems that the body craves (Thompson, 2011). This can involve jumping on a trampoline, playing with sand, wearing a compression suit, or even chewing gum. But an assessment can provide the strategy necessary to see positive results.
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