‘Cognitive loading’ and how to improve learning

‘Cognitive Load’ is a theory developed in the 1980s by a psychologist called John Sweller. It refers to working (short term) memory.

Cognitive Load Theory is a good way to describe how much ‘load’ there is on the brain, i.e. how much mental effort is being used at any given time. When a person is learning, the most efficient way to learn is to reduce the cognitive load so that information will be retained – and more easily stored in the long term memory – with the least mental effort involved.

In this article we will look at the process of learning, the types of load, how they are influenced by autism, and how the load can be reduced in people with autism.

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How to make a decision about engaging in an activity

Upcoming activities can often cause stress or excitement for those on the spectrum. Deciding whether it is a good or bad idea to engage in them can be quite difficult.

When are we not well enough?

Determining when you are too sick, too tired or simply not well enough to engage in activities can be tricky for those on the spectrum. It is very difficult to understand when “too” tired is too tired, or “too” sick is too sick. Let me illustrate this with an example:

‘Ella (29, ASD) has a daily habit of engaging in yoga after work. Today she came home with a bad headache and she can’t stop sneezing. She feels greatly confused about this and is in doubt as to whether she should do yoga or not. She can’t determine if she is too unwell. She decides to do yoga but after half an hour feels so ill she has to retreat to bed.’

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Choice – a burden or a privilege?

Lots of people like having choices. Choice makes many people feel they have a ‘freedom’, or that it’s their ‘right’ to have a choice. Choice can make people feel good.

However, we have to be more thoughtful when giving choices to people on the autistic spectrum. Often, a choice tends to be a burden rather than a pleasure.

One of the constraints of choice is that choice does not define expectations or parameters. For someone with ASD who already has anxiety in daily life, not having clear parameters can add to their anxiety. Another problem with choice is that to decide, or to make, a choice, requires quite complicated mental processes (executive functioning). Neurotypicals tend to have good executive functioning, but it is something that many people with ASD have difficulty with.

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People with ASD: argumentative?

I am the sort of person who always has to have the last word about something. I understand that many people on the spectrum have this trait. This article was triggered because my friend said to me, “Alis, my daughter always has to have the last word. And I think you are like this too? It’s very difficult for the family.” Funny enough, it seems to me that our neurotypical loved ones ‘find’ themselves in arguments… they do not tend to start them!

Let’s define what “to have the last word” means. It means that, in a conversation or – more commonly – in a disagreement or argument, a person says something which is final, i.e. that topic of discussion ends. It usually means that the person who makes the final statement has made the final decision. Two easy examples are a head chef having the last word on what dish is served next week, or a father having the last word on getting his child to have a bath. To have the last word also means not to be able to ‘drop’ something. Sometimes it means to initiate arguments.

Although many people with ASD avoid conflict at all costs, others are very argumentative. In this article, I will look at why people with ASD might be so argumentative and how loved ones can cope with this difficult trait.

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5 parenting tips for autistic parents

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding but also most difficult tasks and responsibilities this planet has to offer. Every parent faces difficulties and can be stressed at times, just as much as overwhelmed with love. Being an autistic parent can make all of those things extra intense and cause great stress on a daily basis. Here are 5 tips for parents, who are on the spectrum themselves, to help deal with the daily struggles.

1. Routine and structure

We all know how routine and structure is important for people with ASD. Routine and structure is also vitally important for children (even neurotypical ones). Giving routine and structure offers children a safe haven in which they can explore themselves and grow. So routine and structure is good for both ASD parents and children.

However, a routine or structure that is too rigid may cause frustration for both. Let me illustrate this with an example.

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How to encourage someone with ASD to do something

A lot of people on the autistic spectrum like routine, repetition and sameness. To give an example of what I mean by this, if things were always entirely up to me, I would never do anything outside my normal routine. I am happy doing a very small number of things, exactly the same things, every day, forever.

So, what happens when someone with ASD is interested in doing something but won’t, or when their loved one wants them to do something they know they will like, yet they still say no? How can we help ourselves or how can our loved ones best encourage us?

For me, there are four main barriers. Here they are and here are my thoughts on how they can be reduced:

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Repetitive questioning

It is common for people on the autistic spectrum to repeat questions, words or phrases, or to seem to want to talk about the same thing. In this article, I will discuss why this might be, give examples, and suggest strategies to help.

Personally, I do find myself asking the same thing over and over again. For myself, the primary problem is that I do not process social interactions very well (words, language, speech, gestures, expressions…). I can hear the words, but not understand what is meant. I receive the information but there is a delay before I actually understand what someone means. 

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8 benefits of dogs for people with autism

2 years ago, my life changed, because we got a puppy! Our breed of choice was the Black Russian Terrier, an uncommon giant breed and a ‘Terrier’ only by name! Today, “Bear” is 2 and a half years old and she weighs 51kg.

I am not an experienced dog owner. In fact, Bear is only my second dog, the first I only have vague memories of because I was so young when we had her. So I write this article from a novice point of view – here are some of the good things about my wonderful dog and some of the benefits of dogs generally for people on the autism spectrum! I have also included a few additional things to consider at the end (because being a dog owner is a big responsibility). Continue Reading

Tips for conversing in groups

A conversation involving multiple people or participating in groups can be extremely difficult for people on the autistic spectrum. There are lots of reasons why, including a magnification in the triad of impairments, i.e. the more people there are, the more people the person with ASD is going to struggle to listen to, talk to and ‘read.’ Also, groups tend to have ‘group rules’ which may be obvious to neurotypicals, but not to us.

Here are some of my tips for people on the spectrum, for conversing in groups.

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A day at work for the girl with the curly hair

Here is the girl with the curly hair’s schedule for today.

5-6am: The newspaper round

The girl with the curly hair arrives at the shop to collect her paper round.

She is always the first paper deliverer in.

After 10 years, the Boss still does not prepare her round first.

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