New Study Finds Educators Taking Wrong Approach to Teaching Autistic Children

With the many advances in research, training, and social services available, 2015 may be remembered as the “Year of the Disabled.”

From the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in December of 2014 to new, innovative programs like TAP – The Autism Program of Illinois and IU’s Indiana Resource Center for Autism, new technologies like the app called “ASCmeI.T” that enables people with autism spectrum conditions to share their ideas on what kind of new technology would best help, and new research findings, such as the use of brainwave – magnetic pulses to treat autism, the possibilities for a better, more productive life for those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD,) Down’s Syndrome, or other neurological disorder, have never looked better.

New Research Contradicts Conventional ASD Training Technique

One example of this is a new study released by Nature Neuroscience in September, 2015, which found that repetitive training, the standard in autism education for many educators, may hinder the learning process. The repercussions of these surprising findings may have far-reaching implications that go a long way to help improve the quality of education for thousands of students diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.)

The study, “Perceptual learning in autism: over-specificity and possible remedies,” found that rather than aiding the education process, the type of repetitive training often used for people “on the spectrum” may actually hinder the learning process by promoting inflexibility. Surprisingly, the study found that reducing repetition in teaching may enhance learning in individuals with an ASD.

According to a description of the study published on, “Using a computer-based perceptual learning protocol, the research team trained a group of high-functioning adults with ASD and a healthy control group to locate three diagonal bars that were surrounded by horizontal lines. Participants were asked to identify the diagonal bars during eight daily practice sessions; their speed and accuracy were logged.”

The report goes on to quote Dr. Matthew Siegel, director of the Developmental Disorders Program at Spring Harbor Hospital, in Westbrook, Maine, who reviewed the study for Medscape: “This is a very interesting study with potentially earthshaking implications for the educational and behavioral approaches to ASD.”

For more information and an in-depth look at the study, read the Medscape article, “Standard Approach to Autism Education May Actually Impair Learning.”

A Brighter Future for Disabled Persons? Just Maybe.

So, what does this all mean in relation to our everyday lives and our children’s education and future?

According to Certified Neurologic Music Therapist and facilitated communication trainer-in-training Karyn (Casey) DePriest, president of Optimal Rhythms / Access Academy in Evansville, Indiana, “It’s exciting to see the true evidence emerging that may create a paradigm shift in education and cause many to ‪rethink autism‬! Optimal Rhythms / Access Academy has been aware of this truth as we recognize and celebrate the neurodiversity of individuals on the spectrum, including the motor, sensory, and connectivity differences of non-verbal students with autism. There is research that teaches us about how the autistic brain learns, but we must be willing to consider that our original understanding may have been wrong.”

It is this kind of open-mindedness and willingness to change from “traditional” training and teaching techniques that gives us the optimistic hope for a future that holds great prospect to improve the quality of life for many disabled individuals. But we must keep up the fight and continue to advocate for the rights disabled Americans deserve. As Sarah Wolff, the one-woman PAC who fought for the passage of the ABLE Act, proved, if we fight the good fight, one person can make a difference.