Autism and nonlinear learning.

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writing on board non linear learningAccording to the dictionary, linear learning is a “process of learning following a step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be given before another step is taken.”  Unfortunately, most people believe that most autistic kids learn linearly. In my experience with Ethan and most of the other kids, I have helped to teach, this is not true. Most of our kids learn differently, they are visual learners. When Ethan was first starting to learn word recognition, he learned the word scissors before he learned the word cat.

We found the same was true when we taught skip counting. The standard model of teaching says that we start by teaching the child to count in twos. Linear teaching (and learning) requires that the child master counting in twos before they progress to the next step. However, most of our kids find counting in twos very difficult and we in fact start by teaching them to count in tens, then hundreds, etc., until we finally get to the twos. We teach them in a non-linear manner as they learn in a non-linear manner.

We have been so engrained to teach linearly that we sometimes forget that our kids are different learners. Just this week, we were discussing our techniques with parents who wanted to teach their kid the easy 3 letter words first and then move onto the harder ones. One parent wanted to change the label on a basketball to just read ball so that it would be easier on their child. With non-linear learners you just do not know. You have to try things out of sequence and go back and forth to fill in the gaps.

Here are some tips on what helped us get started with Ethan and other kids and will hopefully help your child.

  1. Do not assume that was is easy for you will be easy for them and vice versa. The ABA working with Ethan agency spent 2 years trying to teach him the letters A, B and C. According to their data, he never got it and never would. We found he could recognize whole words, which meant that he could differentiate between the letters.
  2. If you find your child is struggling to learn something do not keep doing the same thing. Firstly, try to find a different way to teach the same        concept. If that fails, try a few more versions. Finally, if all else fails skip is and go onto something else, maybe even a harder concept. After a few months come back and try again.  Don’t get stuck in the same routine and frustrate your child.
  3. Break concepts down into smaller steps. When teaching your child to type, first have them type a word at a time. Once they have mastered typing nouns move to nouns and adjectives. Although you may think that letters is the smallest step, letters have no meaning to a visual thinker who needs to see the whole picture in order to learn. For them a word is the smallest step.
  4. Read your child’s body language. If they are getting upset or anxious change the subject you are teaching. If that does nor help, go for a walk with your child.
  5. Make it fun. Ethan really enjoys learning and can sit for 3 to 4 hours at a time.


By Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s Mom

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