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
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.
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
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
this might make them inflexible and not loving changes in daily
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
Certainly, using the adequate technology does not exclude the existence of a pleasant learning environment for the autistic student.
experience with Knowledge Master and autism in the
Instituto Inmaculada Concepción (IIC) of Buenos
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
tool, in order to achieve a fast, deep
and long-lasting learning, and at the same time
acquiring useful learning methods for lifelong
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
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,
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
Most or perhaps all children with
hyperlexia also lie on the
Some interactive functions and
templates in Knowledge Master are
directed to help the hyperlexic.