Teaching Math to the Autistic Brain


Math & the Autism Brain

“ A good teacher must be able to put himself or herself in the place of those who find learning hard.”


As part of SK’s initiative it is also close to our hearts to reach out to professionals and parents so that they can understand what exactly it means to train effectively and most importantly the why’s and how’s of it. We in our blog will aim to share strategies, consequences of possibly successful or even failed strategies and activities that are video demos showing what we do in our space to achieve success.


Again, we are a one on one set-up and the way we work is very intensive wherein one teacher is with a single student or a maximum of two children who will be brought in together because they may have pretty much similar levels.


Teaching Mathematics to children with Autism is a very challenging proposition. Trying to teach it with traditional methods and resources, which involve mental strategies, is a definite fail too. Hence, it becomes essential to start thinking simple, creative and visual along with the use of obsessions, interests and functional activities.


The reason it becomes mandatory to do so is primarily because when the numbers 1 or 100 or 571 is spoken, the child just has a form hopefully attached to it, which will happen due to continuous reinforcement of the visual imagery attached to the number that is shown repeatedly to the student.


We as teachers assume that the minute we start to make these connections by showing pictures and visuals and maybe games in the ipad the child has learnt what is the essence of 571. But the reality is that the child just associates the numbers with the form of 571 and it actually does not mean anything to the child.


Even if a picture of say 571 balls is shown to the child along with the number 571 in book form or in the Smartboard or the Ipad, the child does not necessarily associate that to the 571 balls unless he is actually run through that format from the number 1 to 571, meaning the child will have to be explained 2 things –

  1. Introduction of the number in word form and numerical form

  2. Introduction of the relationship between the balls and the number

It is assumed that most autistic children can automatically process that the balls illustrated beside the number are to give meaning to the number. Which basically means that the child is suppose to infer that the balls hanging near this number are actually what gives meaning to the numbers. This actually is an automated inference that a neuro-typical mind makes in most cases, some are slow while doing this while others are quicker. However, for a brain with learning disabilities or autism such an inference made by the teacher means that the child is bound to fail. The entire session that is run by the teacher and the facilitators at this time is designed to fail precisely with the elements that it must not.


Training Autism is about training with details that are simplified and mainly generalized to the maximum extents possible.


Going back to the example that was being illustrated if a teacher is interested in ensuring that the child understands the significance, the practical functioning and the essence of mathematics then the teacher will have to take the route of ignorance where there is no place for assumptions or complex teaching mechanisms.


What must a teacher do to help build comprehension with numbers.

  1. The teacher will have to first introduce the numbers.

  2. The teacher will then have to introduce the word and numerical form to the child

  3. To identify with meaning for the number the teacher will have to bring in the illustration of the balls and get the children to count the balls in each slide hence associating or hoping to build meaning with the numbers.

  4. To ensure that the child has understood the relationship between the balls and the number, the teacher will have to show many more slides with varied objects but this time make an effort and design the slides bearing in mind the obsessions and interests of the child – so for example if a child likes chocolates, or pizzas then the place of the balls will have to be taken by the food item or the relevant obsessive object.

  5. This also means that the child will have to be put through counting balls, pizzas, burgers, rolls, etc. to ensure generalization and meaning. However tedious this may sound, the drill once done and with an effective design is always successful.

  6. Following this the teachers are also encouraged to play functional games wherein they can bring in objects of interest and get the children to count and match with the numbers thrown on their tables. There are a million such games that can be played with numbers and all it involves is innovative planning.

  7. After the kids have gone through their slides and worksheets and counted correctly the number of objects and associated it to the exact answer, one can be assured that the child may have made the association.

  8. Simultaneously it is mandatory that the teachers keep millions of worksheets ready so that the child is always practicing the learnt concepts in one way or the other so that meaning is embedded within the knowing for the child.

  9. These are the building blocks for comprehension. If meaning is not built then the child will never be able to integrate meaning with the environment or the learnt concepts hence, will then fail to use these concepts practically or even functionally within a classroom set-up.

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