The human brain is incredibly complex, and this is especially true in examining how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects brain development and learning in children. In a therapeutic preschool program, there may be multiple children with autism in the classroom, so it is important for the teachers and therapists to remember that autism occurs on a spectrum and affects every child differently, particularly when developing individualized learning plans.
How does autism affect the brain?
There have been extensive studies conducted on how autism impacts brain development, and we are continually learning about this topic.
Synapses: In typical brain development, infants develop many synapses, or connections between neurons in the brain. In case it has been a while since your last science course, neurons are cells in the brain that carry information throughout the nervous system through other nervous system cells, muscles, and/or glands. By or before a child reaches adolescence, they will experience a decrease in the number of synapses in their brain, through a naturally occurring process. However, some scientific evidence suggests that this “pruning” process does not occur to the same extent in children with autism. Click here to learn more about this topic from Autism Speaks. (This organization provides excellent information on autism, as well as advocacy opportunities, if you do not already know about them!)
Amygdala: This part of the brain is responsible for regulating emotions and social behaviors, and it is different in children with autism. Children who are on the spectrum often experience challenges with these skills, so it makes sense that this area of the brain (located in the temporal lobe) is affected in children with autism.
Cerebellum: This part of the brain (located in the back in the vertebrates) is responsible for regulating muscles, which impacts speech, coordination, and fine/gross motor skills. These are also skills that may pose difficulties for children with autism.
Corpus callosum: This part of the brain (a web of nerve fibers), which joins the two hemispheres of the brain is also different in children with autism.
How a therapeutic preschool program can help children with autism
A therapeutic preschool program has the ability to create individualized learning plans for children in the classroom, as they provide additional support with key developmental skills. A therapeutic preschool program will typically maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio, in order to allow for a more individualized approach and develop a customized plan for each child.
Many therapeutic programs will emphasize speech and language development, behavior concerns, social skills, motor skills, feeding, and more. Children with autism may experience challenges with some of these important skills, yet no two children experience symptoms of autism in the same way. For instance, if a child with autism struggles with communication skills, their teachers and therapists can work with the child on a one-on-one basis to improve communication through activities such as pretend play. Therapeutic preschool programs also emphasize social components of development by offering activities such as circle time, which can help children with autism build speech and language, social skills, play skills, and more.
At CST Academy, we celebrate every child as a unique learner and individualize our approach accordingly. If you think that a therapeutic preschool program could benefit your child with autism, contact us at 773-620-7800 to learn more and request additional information about our program.