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Knowledge Master and Autism
Online course: Educational innovation for the different learning styles (dyslexia, ADD, autism, etc.)

What is Autism?

The autistic continuum ranges from the most severe mentally retarded individuals with social impairment as one of several severe impairments, to highly intelligent and able persons with subtle social impairments (Wing, 1991). The various clinical pictures of autism and related disorders depend upon the combinations of different impairments, which may vary in severity independent of one another, and interact to produce various overt behaviors.

Children with autism demonstrate communication deficits that may involve a complete absence of spoken language, along with an atypical focus or intensity of interests and repetitive patterns of behavior. Deficits in the development of certain language skills may occur, particularly in the area of comprehension of higher-level more complex discourse, which in turn, can affect reading comprehension ability. Some students with autism demonstrate hyperlexia, a precocious ability to decode words with relatively little ability to comprehend the meaning of what is read. The presence of hyperlexia can complicate the assessment of reading ability in these students because their strong word reading skills can mask deficits in the ability to understand what they read.

Autism (which is often used as short for “autism spectrum disorders”) may manifest itself in a variety of ways in school. For example, higher functioning children with autism spectrum disorders often have uneven development of cognitive skills but have relative strengths in processing visual, including written, information. Thus these children may show relative strengths in responding to written material relative to their responses to speech. Even bright children with these disorders often have trouble responding to verbal information presented at a fast pace, difficulty understanding multi-step commands, inconsistent attention to and understanding of verbal information, and a need for their attention to be directed to verbal information, which may need to be repeated several times before it is processed.

Problems are often compounded because students with autism typically have difficulty screening out distractions, completing activities independently, and initiating work activities. Likewise, transitions can be difficult for students with autism. Such students have difficulty stopping one activity and moving onto the next, difficulty being flexible, and difficultly shifting attention (Autism Society of America, 2005).

The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are sometimes known as the 'triad of impairments'. They are:

  • difficulty with social communication, language and/or non verbal communication

  • difficulty with social interaction

  • difficulty with social imagination, lack of flexibility of thought, imagination

On the basis of these premises, it’s easy to understand that the autistic individual faces attention deficits and learning difficulties and impairments, just to mention some of those most related to the learning process.

The Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism

From the autistic spectrum, two classes stand out clearly (though not between them): the Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning autism. A diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism and one of Asperger Syndrome can be made in the same individual at different stages of development. Occasionally a child has been diagnosed with high functioning autism in early childhood and this diagnosis has been changed to Asperger syndrome when they started school. Some diagnosticians are clearly of the view that Asperger syndrome cannot be diagnosed before a child starts school. However this is largely because areas such as social skills deficits may not become apparent until a child spends a lot of time in social settings.

Asperger Syndrome is a congenital neurobiological state that affects the 0,25% of the population. People affected with AS are of average to higher intelligence with some uncommon gifts and developed creativity. At the diagnostic level it’s known in Europe since the 40s but in some countries is has been included in the 90s. Thus, many adults and children have not been diagnosed. In consequence, SA is scarcely known and not well understood, even by professionals. People affected by Asperger Syndrome are often diagnosed with ADD or dyslexia, or simply those conditions coexist in the same individual.

In synthesis:

  • Both people with HFA and AS are affected by the triad of impairments common to all people with autism.

  • Both groups are likely to be of average or above average intelligence.

  • The debate as to whether we need two diagnostic terms is ongoing.

  • However, there may be features such as age of onset and motor skill deficits which differentiate the two conditions.

Although it is frustrating to be given a diagnosis which has yet to be clearly defined it is worth remembering that the fundamental presentation of the two conditions is largely the same. This means that treatments, therapies and educational approaches should also be largely similar. At the same time, all people with autism or Asperger Syndrome are unique and have their own special skills and abilities. These deserve as much recognition as the areas they have difficulty in.

The Central Coherence Theory

The Weak Central Coherence Theory (WCC), also called the Central Coherence theory (CC), suggests that a specific perceptual-cognitive style, loosely described as a limited ability to understand context or to "see the big picture", underlies the central disturbance in autism and related autism spectrum disorders.

The weak central coherence theory attempts to explain how some people diagnosed with autism can show remarkable ability in subjects like math and engineering, yet have trouble with language skills and tend to live in an isolated social world. The theory is among the more prominent conceptual models that try to explain the abnormalities of individuals with autism on tasks involving local and global cognitive processes.

Uta Frith, of University College London, first advanced the weak central coherence theory in the late 1980s. Frith surmised that autistic people typically think about things in the smallest possible parts. Her hypothesis is that children with autism actually perceive details better than normal people, but that "they cannot see the wood for the trees."

This theory leads to consider that autistic people:

  • Have the ability to think in concepts

  •  Have the ability to see causes and effects

  • Have the ability to see, feel, consider the relationship between different objects, words, situations

  • think in details, think very concrete

  •  and this might make them inflexible and not loving changes in daily patterns

And as we mentioned above, autistic people have:

  • difficulties in social interaction

  • difficulties in communication

  • Difficulties in imagination

Learning with autism

Previous considerations, so much those favorable as those adverse, have a strong incidence in learning, from facilitating it, up to the limit of hindering learning completely. Adverse characteristics of the autistic kid can find support in technology, and favorable characteristics can take advantage of technology to create a propitious and effective  learning context for the autistic student, and such has been the effect of Knowledge Master.

Certainly, using the adequate technology does not exclude the existence of a pleasant learning environment for the autistic student.

 
The experience with Knowledge Master and autism in the Instituto Inmaculada Concepción (IIC) of Buenos Aires, Argentina

IIC made the decision, after a meticulous evaluation, to endow with Knowledge Master software their several computer laboratories, which are exclusively dedicated to students’ learning activities.

Besides establishing an advanced school model, this institute places itself at the technological forefront of education, making use of computers not as an end in itself, but as a powerful educational tool, in order to achieve a fast, deep and long-lasting learning, and at the same time acquiring useful learning methods for lifelong learning

With Knowledge Master, besides the motivation of the average student, gifted students have available their own space and challenge, and those with special needs find the necessary support and encouragement. Successful results are usually obtained with Knowledge Master by dyslexics, ADDs, and those affected with working memory issues. It happens in controlled experiences and in daily practice and are known worldwide. Success with KM has also been achieved by students affected by some disorder of the autistic spectrum. This usefulness of the same software (KM) to the different student types, gives KM the role of a school integration resource, avoiding marginalization or exclusion of students with special needs, and nevertheless keeping and encouraging a development space for students with better possibilities.

Knowledge Master is based on the principles of cognitive psychology and uses concept maps as a visual front-end resource. Actual success of Knowledge Master in common teaching and learning, and even more with cases of special needs, is due not precisely to the use of concept mapping, but to the use of cognitive principles, a high level of automation and strong interaction, emulating the way in which the mind learns. These processes comprise the intelligent use of voice, giving the student the chance of being asked questions, dialoguing and interacting with the computer. This interaction offers the student the necessary independence and motivation, crucial for the autistic learner (reducing the need of third party interventions). The autistic learner finds the ideal context for creativity and development, with all the necessary tools and functions.

Voice management in KM has an important role in this success. Synchronic voice provides stimulation which helps the nervous system to better modulate sensory input. With a better ability to modulate voice (voice in KM can be adjusted to suit requirements), there is often a reduction in abnormal sensory perception, specially the perception of voice. Reducing voice/sound sensitivity allows one to be more comfortable in our environment, as one no longer has to protect himself from undesirable incoming sounds. As modulated voice improves the ability to perceive, this enhancement often results in improved communication. Voice improves engagement. Increased engagement includes a reduction in aggressive behavior and a desire for socialization.

In this IIC has taken place not only the autistic student effective learning, but also the public presentation of their work and success, using Knowledge Master. For reasons of privacy laws and for protecting the identity of minors, we cannot give details about the students.

For more information about Knowledge Master methods and resources, please see its Fact-Sheet

Wing, L. (1991). The relationship between Asperger's syndrome and Kanner's autism. In U. Frith(Ed.) Autism and Asperger Syndrome (pp. 93-121). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

In hyperlexia, a child spontaneously and precociously masters single-word reading. It can be viewed as a superability, that is, word recognition ability far above expected levels. The more common definition also includes difficulties with comprehension of printed material beyond or even at the single-word level. Many hyperlexics also have trouble understanding speech. Most or perhaps all children with hyperlexia also lie on the autism spectrum. Some interactive functions and templates in Knowledge Master are directed to help the hyperlexic.

 

 

 

:: Learning disabilities ::
punto elenco Introduction: Learning disabilities
punto elenco Dyslexia
punto elenco Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity (ADD-H)

:: Insight ::

punto elenco Learning and dyslexia

:: Experimentation ::

punto elenco The experience in Rome, 2004
punto elenco Experimentation on dyslexia in Cagliari in 2006

 

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