Use Fixations To Make Learning Easier

Research has shown that strong emotions make memories stronger. Likewise, if you can connect something familiar and chain it to new information it will be better understood and more likely to be retained. For a child with Asperger’s or any child who has a particular area of interest, you are probably finding ways to tie the interest to many areas of learning already. If a child is fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine (and there’s something about that train that especially appeals to many on the autism spectrum) then you could use train cars to represent the components of a multi-step direction. The train cars could be used as manipulatives in math, or to demonstrate how to connect ideas in a writing assignment. For a child with a short attention span who’s always asking you how much schoolwork is left to do, the train could have a car to represent each subject and as the subject is concluded the car is removed so the train gets visibly smaller as progress is made throughout the day. As an added bonus, your child won’t have to keep asking you if they are finished for the day since a glance at the train will tell them the answer. A train could be used to represent minutes earned on the computer, for example, so each car earned for a desired behavior equals five minutes of computer time. If you can’t figure out how to use your child’s areas of interest, ask your child for ideas. It’s likely that they can come up with something and you can tweak the ideas to find something that will work satisfactorily for both of you. As with any new strategy, you will need to give it some time to see if it’s helpful. Once you get past the novelty stage you will have a better idea of how to enact your plan. Keep in mind that children with learning challenges perform inconsistently from day to day – even minute to minute on the off days, so what works one day may not work the next. In a week or month it may work again. Not all children have a particular interest area. Some, on the other hand, are downright obsessed. This fixation may change from one thing to another in phases, or it may be lasting. Your child will show you, over and over, what they like and are seeking. The general strategy of using what the child is interested in will stay the same. Some people are hesitant to encourage their child’s passion about a given topic, and that’s understandable. Yet with many less-desirable behaviors we can’t merely remove them or they will just be replaced by something else. My own son has always been fascinated by weapons. Of course I’m not going to look for ways to include that in our school studies or incorporate weapons as reinforcers no matter how engaging that would be for him. Since he also hyper-focused on Legos we could use those. Try to think creatively and be more flexible than your teacher’s manual instructions. If you know there is something that will engage your child, try to think of a way to use it. When my daughters went through their “Pretty Pony” phase or the “Teeny Beanie” era they were included in many academic realms. Now my girls are beyond that phase, but I’ll fondly remember teaching them as they included their ponies and encouraged them to boldy go where few Pretty Ponies had gone before.

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