Including restricted interests benefits autistic pupils

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have interests restricted to particular topics. New research from the University of Strathclyde has found that accommodating these interests into classroom teaching leads to gains in educational achievement and/or social engagement.

Restricted Interests (RIs) are a component of the formal diagnosis for ASD, and teachers can be faced with the dilemma of whether to accommodate these interests or keep them out of the classroom. There are differing views about whether RIs are harmful or helpful, on one hand potentially obstructing opportunities to learn and peer interaction, but on the other hand generating self-motivated learning, and improving motivation, cognitive skills, and social-emotional well-being.

The authors of this study examined all peer-reviewed studies of teaching children with ASD with RIs published between 1990 and 2014. Of 91 children assessed in 20 published studies, all reported gains in educational achievement and/or social engagement. Negative consequences were limited to a decrease in task performance in one child and a transient increase in perseverative behaviours in two children.

The authors conclude that the RIs of children with ASD should be incorporated into the mainstream curriculum where reasonable to do so.

Source: Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder With Restricted Interests: A Review of Evidence for Best Practice (2015), Review of Educational Research.

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