A recent study has found that contrary to current practice, breaks in repetition may help students with autism. The repetitive drills that are often used to help students on the spectrum learn new skills may actually do more harm than good, according to the findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The research found that training to follow predictable patterns actually inhibits the ability of people on the spectrum to apply those new skills in real life.
Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel measured speed an accuracy among a group of adults, some of whom were high functioning on the spectrum and some of whom were developmentally typical. Subjects looked for three diagonal bars surrounded by horizontal lines on a computer screen. There was daily repetition of the activity for eight days. The bars remained in the same place on the screen the first four days, and then were moved to a different location.
For the first four days, all adults improved consistently. After the bars were moved, the adults with autism struggled with the adaptation, while typically developing adults adapted and improved. Adults on the spectrum did not learn the second location as well as the first.
“It’s like they showed ‘hyperspecificity’ of learning — their learning became fixed and inflexible — since learning the first location adversely influenced their ability to learn the second instance,” said study leader Hila Harris of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.