Does the Arrowsmith Program Help With Autism?

The Arrowsmith Program is founded on the principles of neuroplasticity and works to strengthen weak cognitive areas (learning dysfunctions) that are the underlying causes and struggles in learning.

The program is composed of cognitive exercises developed by Barbara Arrowsmith Young that strengthens weak cognitive areas, ongoing teacher training and support, and remote monitoring of all student progress.

The Arrowsmith Program is for individuals struggling with specific learning difficulties (SLD).

The standard definition of SLD is that the individual has an average or above-average intelligence score, but has a specific disability in an area related to learning or academic skill acquisition.

The Arrowsmith Program addresses a wide range of specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, auditory and/or visual processing disorders, attention difficulties and non-verbal learning difficulties.

The program is also designed for individuals who do not have identified specific learning disabilities but are challenged with issues such as organization, processing, problem solving, communication, memory, and independence.

What Is Autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today.

 

We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn to think, and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.

Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

 

Signs of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

 

What are the signs of autism?

The autism diagnosis age and intensity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, behaviours become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.

Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.

The following may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, ask your paediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation right away:

By 6 months

  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful and engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact

By 9 months

  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions

By 12 months

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
  • Little or no response to name

By 16 months

  • Very few or no words

By 24 months

  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)
  • At any age
  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviours (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colours

 

Is the Arrowsmith Program effective in addressing Developmental or Intellectual Delays or Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The Arrowsmith Program is developed for individuals struggling with specific learning difficulties (SLD). The standard definition of SLD is that the individual has an average or above-average intelligence, and has a specific difficulty in an area related to learning or academic skill acquisition. The program is designed and therefore most suited for, individuals within the average to an above-average range of intelligence.

Conditions such as Developmental or Intellectual Delay typically indicate an impairment of general intellect and function, and students with developmental or intellectual delay have needs that are more significant than a student with a specific learning difficulty.

In some cases, individuals with learning difficulties who also have high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Asperger’s have benefited from the Arrowsmith Program. While the Arrowsmith Program will enable these individuals to address their cognitive learning needs, it will not address features related to the specific Autism Spectrum Disorder. In such cases, there is careful deliberation when determining appropriateness during the admissions process to ensure suitability.

All educational organizations determine their own eligibility and admissions process, including whether they have the resources to support students with needs beyond the scope of the Arrowsmith Program. Please contact these organizations directly should you wish to enquire about enrolment opportunities. Please visit Participating Schools for a list of schools currently implementing the Arrowsmith Program.

Is the Arrowsmith Program suitable for you or your child?

Students entering Arrowsmith School typically experience a range of problems, including:

 

  • reading
  • writing
  • mathematics
  • comprehension
  • logical reasoning
  • visual memory
  • auditory memory
  • dyslexia
  • non-verbal learning
  • auditory processing
  • attention

We suggest that parents or students review the list of Learning Difficulties Addressed, which contains a list of the learning problems that our program addresses and their common features.

 

The typical student at Arrowsmith School

  • is of average or above-average intelligence
  • has a combination of the learning difficulties that are described in the Descriptions of Learning Difficulties on our web site and our brochure
  • does not have severe intellectual, cognitive, emotional or behavioural disorders that would significantly affect his or her ability to participate in the Arrowsmith Program.
  • does not have acquired brain injury or an autism spectrum disorder
  • is of elementary, secondary or post-secondary school age

 

These are guidelines only. There are many students who fall within these guidelines; others who may require further consideration and still others for whom we feel this program cannot provide meaningful benefit.

 

For example, we do not accept children with severe autism, but we have had success with high functioning students with Asperger Syndrome. Some professionals consider Asperger Syndrome to be the same as or similar to high functioning autism, and others associate it with a non-verbal learning disorder. There is no hard and fast rule, and we will consider their appropriateness for our program in consultation with the student’s parents.

 

These considerations apply equally to students enrolling at one of the schools that offer our program.

 

What about autism?

In some cases, individuals with learning disabilities who also have high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Asperger’s have benefitted from the Arrowsmith Program.

 

Some professionals consider Asperger Syndrome to be the same as or similar to high functioning autism, and others associate it with a nonverbal learning disorder. There is no hard and fast rule, and appropriateness for the Arrowsmith Program is made in consultation with the school offering the program.

 

Note that while the Arrowsmith Program will enable these individuals to address their cognitive learning needs, it will not address features related to the specific Autism Spectrum Disorder. In such cases, there is careful deliberation when determining appropriateness during the admissions process to ensure suitability.

 

Who is not suitable for the program? How do you determine suitability?

Individuals with the conditions listed below are beyond the scope of the Arrowsmith Program. The Arrowsmith Program® would therefore not be recommended for these issues. Suitability is determined in consultation between the family and the school. Each school determines its own additional suitability and enrollment criteria. An Arrowsmith assessment does not determine suitability. Features beyond the scope of the Arrowsmith Program:

 

  • Acquired Brain Injury – We have worked with some individuals with acquired brain injury with some success. This difficulty is not unknowing the full scope of the injury – what brain tissue has been damaged and to what extent.
  • Severe Intellectual or Cognitive Disorders (e.g. MID, Global Delay) – These individuals have difficulty accessing the program because they have decreased foundational neural connections within the grey matter, and therefore have limitations to the neuroplastic capabilities of their brains.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders – We have worked with students with autism that are high functioning (e.g. Asperger’s) with some success as we can address underlying cognitive deficits. We cannot address Autism or Asperger’s as it is not a cognitive weakness.
  • Emotional or Behavioral Disorders – Some common examples include Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Aggression, Psychiatric disorders. These affect the student’s ability to engage in the exercises actively and will have a direct impact on their progress through the exercises. We suggest individuals with these types of disorders seek treatment for these issues before considering participation in the program.

Conditions such as Developmental or Intellectual Delay typically indicate an impairment of general intellect and function, and students with developmental or intellectual delay have needs that are more significant than a student with a specific learning difficulty.

In some cases, individuals with learning difficulties who also have high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Asperger’s have benefitted from the Arrowsmith Program. While the Arrowsmith Program will enable these individuals to address their cognitive learning needs, it will not address features related to the specific Autism Spectrum Disorder. In such cases, there is careful deliberation when determining appropriateness during the admissions process to ensure suitability.

 

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