AUTISM: How The Cognitive Deficit Issue Affects Treatment Results

Autism is a neurological disorder usually diagnosed in childhood when developmental milestones begin to show significant delays. Autism affects each individual to varying degrees in all areas related to speech and language development, social engagement, cognitive and behavioral functioning, and sensory/motor function. Additionally, a hallmark feature of autism is the exhibiting of repetitive behaviors (similar to OCD), and restricted interests.

Low cognitive functioning is a feature of severe autism and greatly inhibits progress in all areas of functioning. Many stories depicted in the media highlight children and young adults with higher functioning autism where understanding concepts and having some degree of conversational speech skills are intact. However, thousands of kids without these capacities struggle to function and to be understood. When understanding the “ what and why” of a situation is not possible, compliance by the person with ASD is more challenging to obtain. Intervention strategies have a much better chance of being effective when a person understands the reason for the targeted goal.

For example, without an understanding of the importance of being on time, a person with autism is much less able to self motivate and regulate behaviors that results in punctuality. Additionally, If someone doesn’t understand the concept of fairness, their social behaviors will be disruptive and inappropriate.

The solution to increasing cognitive levels in persons with more severe forms of autism is the teaching of skills within the context of functional systems that have meaning to the individual and their life. Go to my website to read more about a method, The Miller Method, to learn about strategies that increase cognitive functioning.

Rebecca Sperber, M.S., MFT