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A book by Bryna Siegel, “Helping Children With Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals” wants to guide teachers, therapists and parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. It is about how children with different forms of autism learn.
But it is also about how to teach these children — based on how they can best learn. Siegel writes:
Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’, meaning that it manifests itself differently in each child. Like a row of dominoes, if an early aspect of development is affected in a particular case of autism, other later-emerging aspects of development will be affected too.
As a result, each case of autism presents a slightly different profile of learning abilities and learning disabilities. Each learning ability and each learning disability may influence how a particular child with autism may or may not learn something the way other children without autism may learn the same thing. These autism-specific learning barriers are referred to in this book as ‘autitic learning disabilities’. The autism specific learning strengths are referred to as ‘autistic learning styles’.
A note on the page facing the introduction suggests “How to Read This Book”. It notes that the work should be seen as a sourcebook; read it through, or read only the chapters that will help you most now.
The first part of the book introduces, Siegel says, a whole new way of thinking about autism. New parents might want to skip this part and go straight to what specific area of development or specific kind of treatment program they need right now.
Each of the three parts, and each chapter, is “modularized” and organized to make sense even if read alone. “While all aspects of autism are connected, focusing on just one dimension at a time can help unpack the complexities of treating autism, and in a manageable way.”
The book is in three parts:
I. “The Fundamentals of Autistic Learning Styles” with chapters on origins, atypical development, and the autistic’s possible compensatory strengths.
II. “Autistic Learning Disabilities and Autistic Learning Styles: What Makes the World of the Autistic Child Different?” Chapters discuss social and communicative challenges as well as treatments; relating to the ‘world of objects’; and daily living skills.
III. “Methods of Teaching Children With Autism: How They Address Autistic Learning Disabilities and Autistic Learning Styles“, has chapters on Applied Behavior Analysis and Discrete Trial Training; the TEACCH Curriculum; mainstreaming; model programs; and IEPs.
Finally there are suggestions for further readings for teachers, parents and professionals; an Autistic Learning Disabilities Inventory; and an index.
Eleven years ago, Siegel wrote “The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders”. This later book brings her research work together with her clinical experience in the intervening years. She illustrates aspects of intervention with principles and findings from that experience. She believes that certain learning styles are adaptations that children with autism use in an attempt to compensate; an awareness of these styles is an essential starting point for intervention.
Since legitimate differences in approach exist, and these differences can add to the burden of parents as well as clinicians, this book provides a synthesis of clinical experience to help guide intervention.
“Helping Children With Autism Learn”, by Bryna Siegel PhD is published by Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-19-53206-5 (paper).
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