I’m struggling with my son remembering the things he has learned. I teach him one thing and he forgets. Any tips? –Matsepo
What you’re experiencing is very common for people with developmental disabilities. Research shows that children with autism require significantly more learning opportunities to gain a new skill than other children. On top of that, children with autism often require more on-going training to maintain the skill. In other words, not only do our kiddos on the spectrum take longer to acquire new skills, they require more help to remember the skill. This applies to how they retain information, too.
The skill of remembering what you’ve been taught across long periods of time is called MAINTENANCE. Think of it like this: If you made a new meal one time, you probably wouldn’t remember how to make it again a month later without checking the recipe. But if you made the meal every other day for three weeks in a row, you will probably remember how to make it a month later. The more you practice, the better recall you have.
Here are some things you can do to help your son remember what he’s been taught:
- Repetition: It’s key to create lots of opportunities for your son to use the information he’s been taught. For example, if you taught him his brother’s name but he never has a reason to talk about his brother, he may not retain that information. But if you ask him throughout the day, “Who’s sitting over there on the couch?” or “Who has the book?” he will be forced to recall what his brother’s name is. Another example may be math facts. You can set up times throughout the day to practice his addition, such as every night before dinner or while in the bath.
- Generalization: Practice the skills you teach your son across a variety of environments, with different people, and with different items. For example, If he knows how to wash his hands in the downstairs bathroom, make sure to also practice washing hands in the kitchen sink and master bathroom sink. Create a ton of opportunities for him to practice what he knows in a new setting. This can apply to almost anything: answering questions with different people, buttoning different shirts, tying various pairs of shoe laces, playing board games with different peers, etc.
- Use prompts: I like to create little hints to help my learners remember things. For example, I worked with a kiddo who had socialization goals to respond to peers’ comments during conversation. We taught him that he could reply, “Cool,” when a peer told him something interesting. We paired the word “cool” with the thumbs-up gesture so that from across the room I could signal him a thumbs-up and he would be reminded to say, “Cool,” to his friend during a conversation. With another kiddo, we created jingles to remember spelling words. On the day of the test I could just hum the tune and he remembered how to spell the word. Find little ways to remind your son of what he knows.
- Make it fun: You can use different learning strategies to help your child remember things. For example, if you taught him how to write his name with a paper and pencil, try having him write it with makers, then paint, then on the iPad, or with chalk outside. Or with math facts, you can use flashcards, a dry erase board, a math app, and making them into a song! Find new and interesting ways to target the same skill.
I hope these ideas help! Keep in mind that your son will need extra practice to maintain the skills he has been taught. Be patient and have endurance. The more opportunities he has to use the skill, the more likely he is to remember it.
Angelina M. works as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, specializing in assessing and treating children and adolescents with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays. She began her career in applied behavior analysis in 2006, following her youngest brother’s autism diagnosis, and has since worked with dozens of children and families. She also writes a blog about her experiences as both a professional and a big sister. Her brother, Dylan, remains her most powerful inspiration for helping others who face similar challenges. You can learn more about Angelina on her blog, The Autism Onion, or on Facebook.
This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions