It is necessary to know the neuropsychological bases of learning in order to pass the teaching to the next generation. Fonseca explains that although the learning capacity is specific to several species, it is the only type of person who deliberately transmits teaching. Difficulties in learning the conditional relationships between the literature, stimuli, and concepts can cause limitations in an individual’s life and limit their social interaction. Communication plays an important role in the integration of auditory and visual stimuli. Thus, the understanding of the environment arises from the interaction between people and learning is a result of the relationship established with sensory stimuli.
Children with Autism Learning (Language, Social and Cognitive Factors)
It is known that language is formed by more meaningful experiences and situations. Although it depends on cognitive development, physiological integrity and language abilities, environmental demands and support play an important role in the child’s learning process. The construction of a socially shared code that leads to the assignment of meaning to the various elements and experiences of the world depends on interaction with other important persons. Language and memory also depend on meaningful situations and experiences. Although skills acquired through systematic training often provide rapid results, if not used or associated with meaningful contexts, they are discarded as quickly as they gain.
Based on these ideas, it seems reasonable to assume that children with autism spectrum disorders present some disadvantages in the learning process. Because a person with ASD features has a specific social disability and various degrees of impairment in social interactions. Thus, it is accepted that the language disorder of children with autism is not necessarily related to linguistic structures, although it is affected in some children. Language disorders of children with ASD are mainly related to pragmatic abilities, including different levels of disabilities, from lack of contact to subtle difficulties with interaction and speaking abilities. This is another reason why understanding the child’s context and environment is essential.
Several studies show that involving families in the therapeutic process of children with ASD improves outcomes and prognosis better than traditional one-to-one therapeutic approaches. Some authors view emotional health as the backbone of development, allowing cognitive and linguistic development, thus enabling successful learning processes. Regardless of the causal relationship and the hierarchy between these developmental areas, the importance of emotional health for learning is indisputable. Perceiving, processing, and positively absorbing and interpreting sensory information to build and learn in a healthy and creative way, that is, for cognitive processing to truly occur, depends on emotional health.
Studies focusing on the importance of involving parents and caregivers are increasing in number and impact, with results increasingly consistently improving the quality of life of parents and caregivers. In addition, it shows that their participation in the intervention processes with children with ASD has a positive effect. Symptoms have often been found to fit the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in ASD individuals. And this has led research to compare learning performance between individuals with ASD and ADHD. Both diagnoses present significant impairments in cognitive performance, and it is important to think from a neurocognitive perspective, raising questions and studies involving tasks that require skills such as executive function, theory of mind, and even language.
Executive function is defined today as a cognitive process that is necessary, including the skills required to define and achieve executive function. These include working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Working memory is the ability to recover previously stored information to perform a task. Preventive control is the ability to suppress any action or information that could interrupt or hinder the execution of the task or scheduling. Executive function is closely linked with communication skills that affect the learning, autonomy and social life of the individual with ASD. This, in part, makes it difficult to understand the direct impact of executive dysfunction on children with ASD. Even studies have not yet reached a consensus on impairments in executive function in this population. Some studies show deficiency and risk, showing the causal relationship between executive function and other abilities. At the same time, others show that individuals with ASD do not typically show more impairment in development, developmental language impairment, and other groups with ADHD, and this may not be the central impairment of the disorder.
Some researchers reported in their articles that the working memory performances of children with ASD and ADHD were similar. However, they reported that their performance was lower compared to typical developmental children, even when matched with IQ and school age. However, other researchers did not find significant differences in working memory between adolescents and adults with ASD and mental disabilities compared to individuals without ASD that matched IQ.
In the effort to understand the interdependence of working memory with language, some studies distinguish the assessment of this cognitive ability between visual or spatial working memory and verbal working memory. A very interesting study attempting to understand the relationship between working memory and language ability is Hill’s 2015 article. Working memory was assessed and compared with ASD and developmental language impairment in children aged 5-8 years. In this study, children with ASD were divided into two groups as children with and without language impairment. Children with the right language performed better than children with language impairments. Additionally, children with ASD and language impairment performed similarly to children with developmental language impairment in most verbal working memory tasks. However, none of these groups differed in visual working memory tasks suggesting their interdependence, and this also happens with inhibition control.
Findings of inhibitory control studies in children with ASD are varied. Some show significant losses, while others show no differences compared to ADHD and DT. A commonly used test to verify this ability is Stroop, which requires a refined language skill. Researchers have conducted many preventive control tests with and without verbal expression. In the test that requires verbal ability, the performance of children with ASD and ADHD is worse than typical developmental children. In the test, where verbal expression skills are not required, children need to hear or see a certain number of times to respond. Children with ASD performed worse than children with DT and ADHD. However, it’s important to note that the task requires a linguistic skill, even in the assumed visual working memory test, which does not require expressive language.
And the same pattern is seen in research that tries to assess cognitive flexibility using comprehensive or expressive tasks that require a certain level of language. The fact that neuropsychological assessments are aimed at evaluating language and are not sensitive to these skills has been a common problem in most of the suggested evaluations. Generally, these evaluations are made by psychologists who do not have deep knowledge to identify language failures or even to distinguish or describe the language structures required for this.
Many misjudge language as just an expressive or verbal act, which is conceptually incorrect. Or they ignore the cultural component of language or even fail to assess language skill alone and often consider the cognitive strategies used by the child in language ability or some other way. As stated, this information is necessary to clarify a possible causal relationship or to shed light on the possible relationship between cognitive and language domains, not just in children with ASD.
Author: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu