How To Achieve Long-Term Cognitive Development for Autism

SYDNEY, Australia  |  A 2020 long-term study traced and identified the level of function and developmental change of cognition and the autism symptoms from childhood to early adulthood.

However, its findings suggest that even though there are ‘cognitive increments’ for many adolescents with autism, there is still a lack of improvement in autism symptoms.

So how do we improve autism symptoms? 

How can we help children and adults with ASD to improve their comprehension, attention, concentration, memory, and other cognitive abilities important for learning and growth? 

Equally important, how can we help them during the post-pandemic times?

Kid with Autism

Autism In a Nutshell

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disability that affects an individual’s thought process, feelings, interaction with others, and what they experience in their environment. 

Thanks to our ability to understand each others’ emotions, we have the potential to socially interact. However, people who are diagnosed with autism around 2 or 3 years of age cannot even regulate and respond to their own emotions.

For your better understanding, the list below depicts the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder:

  • Restricted and repetitive behaviour.
  • Increase in hyperactivity.
  • Poorly developed social skills.
  • Reduced cognitive and social-emotional development.

How Do We Use Cognition in Daily Life?

While cognition refers to the mental processes that involve thinking, embracing knowledge, remembering, and problem solving, some higher-level functions of the brain include planning, imagination, perception and comprehending language. 

Types of Cognitive Processes

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Perception
  • Thought

These cognitive processes influence and shape every aspect of your life, from school to work to relationships. Why don’t we take a look at these specific uses for cognitive processes to understand their role in our life: 

  • Learning New Things And New Information
  • Making Decisions (or, Judgements)
  • Forming Memories
  • Forming Impressions
  • Perceiving the World
  • Filling in the Gaps
  • Interaction With the World

Let’s not forget that these thoughts and mental processes further influence our actions. The attention that we render to the world, our memories of past events, judgements about other people and how a particular situation works out, our ability to understand language and our potential to solve problems – everything combined decides or entails our behaviour and how we interact with our surrounding environment.

Autistic Child

COVID-19 and Autism Challenges

In the last two years, the world has experienced a lot of change due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed the way of life for each one of us, from our personal space to social interactions. 

An autistic individual gets agitated, annoyed, and acquires self-inflicting behaviours, when they come across a change in their environment or surroundings. So, one can only imagine the kind of stress they felt during and post lockdown.

During times of uncertainty, young autistic individuals with no daily routine were getting more stressed. 

  • The first few months called for distancing and less social interaction, due to which many in-person therapeutic programs were halted, leaving the autistic children without adequate access to care and extra support.
  • Highly susceptible to mental health problems, these autistic children and youth were affected a bit differently when it comes to working from home. 

Most adults with autism were able to cope with the social isolation during the work from home period as they were not overwhelmed by too many stimuli. Even the kids found it a blessing to stay at home due to reduced pressure from school and peers and no transition from home to school.

However, the young ones also found it hard not to be able to go to school (in case they made friends).

A 2021 study on depression, personal wellbeing, and suicide risk factors in Australian autistic adults during COVID-19 illustrates,

  • Reduced personal wellbeing was assessed.
  • COVID-19 impact showed increased depressive symptoms.
  • The pandemic led to greater mental health challenges.
  • Autism can lead to depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The news was also not all rainbows and unicorns for adults with autism when they heard the pandemic news. 

Girl with Autism

“I wasn’t sleeping. Instead of informing me, the news almost pushed my mental health to the brink of what I could handle.” – Nick McAllister (An autistic Australian, blogger, and writer)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the wellbeing of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities  reports,

  • 76.9% represents child health and wellbeing was impacted by COVID-19.
  • More television and digital media usage were found among children with neurodevelopmental conditions (ASD).
  • 43.6% of these children experienced reduced sleep quality.

A few autistic adults were coming across disrupted sleep patterns, nightmares, waking up exhausted, and waking up in the middle of the night. On the other hand, cognitive arousal was noticed to be improved.

During and post COVID-19, many organisations have come forward with video lessons to address the issue or carry out developmental programs, including Tomatis® Method (a home based solution that doesn’t even require screen interaction) for the autism community.

“Homeschooling, change in routines, anxiety et cetera all had a huge impact on our kids” – Nicole Rogerson (CEO of Autism Awareness Australia)

Post COVID-19, implementation of new measures, from schools reopening to work from office have brought yet another change. But, the therapies and methods used to improve the cognitive abilities of autistic individuals were somewhat successful in reducing their stress and anxiety. 

A recent study for autistic children during the pandemic shared that,

  • The parents of children with ASD have reported a significant improvement in emotional regulation in their children. 
  • The therapists should deliver the programs or online sessions that are personalised as much as possible to match the needs of the individual child.
  • Parents have gained more insights into their children’s behaviour.
  • The parents with autistic individuals were highly motivated to continue with online formats of programs despite their hesitation with the technology and increased screen time. 

With new variants of COVID-19 approaching the world, no one is certain if the lockdown will again prevail or if our economy will be able to thrive with the latest tools and safety measures implemented. 

Cognitive Development

Top Tips to Lessen the Stress of the Post-Pandemic Times

We can choose to follow some of the valuable precautions to smoothen the process and lessen their stress level.

  • If your autistic child hears or learns about the news related to the virus, try to talk it through. Keep the information simple and be honest in your conversation with them. 
  • Staying hygienic is a standard and essential rule, which you can make them comprehend irrespective of the virus. However, you should explain the concepts and rules of social distancing through stories or sharp visual aids. 
  • Try to stick to their usual routines since they can struggle with flexibility and behavioural rigidity. Even post lockdown with schools reopening, you should try to make the changes bit by bit to make it easier for them to return to their new normal. 
  • Create a quiet space for them where you can implement strategies to manage emotions and stress. Exercising, playing outside, and sensory strategies have helped them and can still assist them in reaching calmness, triggering attention mechanisms and reducing meltdowns. 

Activities & Support for Long-Term  Cognitive Development

New longitudinal research provides certain signs and indications to track children’s cognitive skills over time where Elizabeth Pellicano, a developmental cognitive scientist shares that, 

They stress the importance of understanding the breadth of cognitive skills — a set of weaknesses and strengths — in children with ASD, and how these skills progress over time. A key question for the future is whether there are approaches that can facilitate progress in some of these areas.

Specific therapies and activities play a crucial role to assist in cognitive development. 

  • Sensory tools and therapies are an effective approach that concentrate on improving external stimuli. Providing sensory experiences not only improves or corrects the sensory integration but also helps in overall functioning. 

The Tomatis® Method is one of these practical and effective measures that can be implemented to help individuals with ASD, including anyone with language and speech difficulties. 

  • COVID-19 brought up anxiety and fears about health and much more, but CBT is one of the approaches that can make individuals aware of possible errors and can teach them to monitor their own emotions. 
  • An occupational therapist, clinical psychologist, or paediatrician can help you in understanding your kid’s needs. They are experienced individuals who can assist you in the development of your autistic kid post COVID-19 if there was no one during the lockdown.
  • Soundsory® – This method utilises a multi-sensory approach to improve brain-body functions. The specially designed music is processed with neuro-acoustic modifications with the sole purpose of enhancing the sensory, emotional, and cognitive development of a child or adult.
  • Forbrain® is a device for brain training that harnesses the user’s voice to boost their brain. It assists people from every walk of life and not just autistic individuals in building self-confidence, sharper attention, and stronger memory.

Whether the circumstances take you back to the lockdown period or the new post COVID plans are being implemented, no parents or caregivers would like their autistic child and young adults with ASD to go through any meltdowns. 

While there is no cure for this disorder, the Tomatis® Method has opened the door to new possibilities where you will be introduced to neurosensory stimulation and music (usually by Mozart and Gregorian chants) to re-pattern the nervous system by stimulating the brain and improving perception in return.

The Transformation You Deserve Is Within Reach  

COVID-19 had different impacts on distinct individuals with ASD. While some experienced higher levels of emotional breakdown, some of them (especially adults) were more than glad to spend their time with themselves. 

But, when it comes to improving your communication difficulties, social issues, and repetitive behaviour – be it a child or an adult, they require special assistance. 

The Tomatis® Method renders services that can help people with autism to communicate and learn via auditory and listening training. We, at the Australian Tomatis® Method, understand that the brain responds to stimulation differently, and therefore we conduct spectrum assessments apart from other therapies to identify the difficulties expressed by an autistic individual. 

So, today contact our Tomatis® professionals in Sydney, Australia, to learn the possible solutions for your loved ones and better strategies to deal with the same. 

How was your lockdown experience with your child? Share with us in the comments section below. 

Cognitive Development

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