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Health Series: Research Spotlight

Helping to Support Learning in Autism

Researchers at City’s Autism Research Group have teamed up with staff at LVS Hassocks, an autism specific school in Sussex, to develop a guide that will help educators better understand memory and learning in people with autism.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

Although memory difficulties are not part of the formal criteria for a diagnosis, it has long been known that people on the autism spectrum have a particular profile of memory strengths and weaknesses. Understanding this profile can help parents, educators and carers (and autistic people themselves) to better understand the way autistic people respond to and learn from situations they encounter in everyday life. In this way, better understanding can lead to more effective support strategies.

Researchers at City, University of London's Autism Research Group have teamed up with staff at LVS Hassocks, an autism specific school in Sussex, to develop a guide that will help educators better understand memory and learning in people with autism. It will also enable the development of supportive strategies to help reduce some of the difficulties that autistic people experience because of their different styles of learning and memory.

'An Evidence-Based Guide to Supporting Learning in Autism' has at its heart a series of scenarios drawn from everyday situations involving learning and memory, presented in Part 1 of the guide. For example, one scenario describes how a child consistently forgets to get his sports kit ready the evening before the day he was scheduled to play sports at school. The absence of planning for future activities (prospective memory) can increase stress and anxiety. The guide then explains why this tends to happen (difficulties with prospective memory) and suggests possible strategies to improve the situation.

Part 2 of the guide provides a more in-depth account of the science behind the scenarios together with some pointers to further reading for those interested.

Professor Dermot Bowler, Autism Research Group at City, University of London said:

For decades, we have known that autistic people learn and remember things differently. Yet at the Autism Research Group at City, University of London, we have been struck by the fact that this was not widely known among the very people whose role it is to promote learning in this group.  Our aim with this booklet is to raise awareness in as many people as possible about autism-related differences in learning and memory to promote understanding and effective intervention.

Feedback from outside academia has also been encouraging.

Dr Sarah Lister Brook, Clinical Director, National Autistic Society, said:

Everyone working with autistic people will welcome this guide to learning and memory. Key concepts are illustrated by means of real-life scenarios each of which is accompanied by evidence-based suggestions on what to do. There is also a detailed section for those who would like to follow up the research that underlies the strategies outlined in the scenarios.

Dr James Cusack, Director of Science, Autistica, said:

Thanks to work from world-leading researchers like Professor Bowler and Dr Roestorf we know that autistic people learn about and understand the world differently. This detailed guide plays a vital role by bridging the gap between these research findings and real life. The guide starts by providing some practical examples of how learning and memory differences might impact on autistic people before allowing us all to reflect on the most effective ways to respond.

Download An Evidence-Based Guide to Supporting Learning and Memory in Autism

Originally, the guide was due to be launched at a series of events in London and Sussex in April 2020, but this has not been possible because of the Covid-19 lockdown. Instead, copies of the booklet can be downloaded from the City, University website, free of charge.

We hope as many people as possible can download the guide and tell their colleagues and friends to do so as well.

Your feedback

We would be grateful if you could take a couple of minutes to tell us how useful the guide is in your work. This will help us to update future versions and inform research and practice to support autistic people. You can give feedback by scanning the QR code on the guide, which will link you to a short questionnaire. If you have queries, you can also contact us on argtasksupport@city.ac.uk

Further information

Download 'An Evidence-Based Guide to Supporting Learning and Memory in Autism' from the City, University of London website.

About the Autism Research Group (ARG) at City, University of London.

Co-author, Professor Dermot Bowler's research interests focus on memory in people from the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, and have been generously supported by the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield foundation and Autism Speaks.

Report co-author Dr Amanda Roestorf is a researcher at The Autism Research Group at City, University of London. Her work is focused on changes in functional and cognitive abilities of autistic people across the adult lifespan. Amanda’s research aims to develop the skills and abilities that support good mental health and improve quality of life in older age.

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