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They say if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.  

Recognized as a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviours, the Autism Spectrum is immense. Each individual with autism is unique with strengths and challenges that impact their lives, and that of their family’s.  

For organizations offering Arrowsmith, and for the families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who have participated in the Arrowsmith Program, the unique nature of this diagnosis is precisely why a cognitive lens is such a vital perspective.  

They have found that by understanding an individual’s unique cognitive profile, and by facilitating participation in programs that strengthen specific cognitive weaknesses, lives are transformed. Particularly those considered to have high functioning Autism, families have recognized significant benefits to learning capacity, social skill development, and overall independence. 

Typical Supports for Individuals with Autism 

Autism presents a diverse spectrum of challenges, ranging from sensory sensitivities to difficulties in understanding social cues. These challenges can often impede an individual's ability to engage with the world around them effectively.  Most approaches to support people with ASD involve providing strategies or tools to help them cope. Some examples include visual schedules, highly structured environments, or social skills coaching. Some individuals find benefit in these strategies, and others continue to struggle with various tasks or situations. The limitation of these approaches is the tendency to overuse or apply a given strategy to every situation or task. In reality, most aspects of life and learning require considerable flexibility or nuanced understanding.  

The Role of Arrowsmith in Supporting Individuals with Autism 

While Arrowsmith is not designed to address Autism, its programs are designed to target the specific cognitive capacities involved in attention, memory, executive function, understanding, and social navigation. By improving these core processes, families report that children have made significant improvements, overcoming barriers to learning and enhancing their overall functioning. Let’s look further at the potential benefits. 

Independence and Daily Living Skills 

Many individuals with autism struggle with aspects of daily living, such as organization, time management, and problem-solving. Among programs that improve one’s ability across tasks like scheduling and budgeting , Arrowsmith’s Symbolic Thinking is designed to improve one's executive function, which enables the navigation of daily tasks to be more effective and independent.  

Social Skill Development 

Social interaction can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism due to difficulties in understanding social cues and navigating social norms. Improvements in the Non-Verbal Thinking function can help individuals develop the capacity to perceive and interpret non-verbal cues and clues. Gains in the Symbol Relations function can lead to improvements in reasoning, perspective-taking and even empathy. Through these structured interventions within a supportive environment, organizations providing Arrowsmith are empowering individuals with autism with the capacity to build meaningful relationships and engage more confidently in social settings. 

Learning Capacity and Academic Achievement 

Some individuals with autism experience learning difficulties, including diagnoses such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder. These are all diagnoses caused by weak processes in the brain – all of which can be strengthened through Arrowsmith training. When individuals improve processes related to visual memory, fine motor planning, and language processing, their ability to acquire academic skills can accelerate.  

Real-Life Success Stories 

Of course, the real impact of changing the brain’s ability is seen through the real-life stories of those who participate:  

"We have been on this journey with Judy since she was three after being told by medical professionals she was autistic, she would never talk, write or go to a normal school. In addition, we were informed by the educational professionals in Grade 1 to brace ourselves as she would “get worse as she gets older” and to put her on medication.

Whilst our journey has been long and difficult, the Arrowsmith Program has been profoundly life-changing not only for Judy but for our entire family. Words can’t describe how life-changing this program has been for all of us. Friends and family are amazed at the progress Judy has made; she is now going back to school next year in Grade 7 with little or no learning support. She is very bright and the Arrowsmith program has given her hope and a future."

- Karen, Arrowsmith Parent, Australia 

"When I was little, I struggled to understand people and never understood life. I struggled to understand the meaning of everything, such as what other kids liked to do for fun or how to engage in their activities. I was very quiet, and I couldn’t tell anyone my struggles because I couldn’t communicate well.

School was hard for me to enjoy because everything was confusing and hard to understand. Specialists and therapists outside of school would talk to my parents and say that I wouldn’t get past the third grade because I had too many learning struggles to address.  

I started Arrowsmith at my school, Ambleside School of Fredericksburg, which offers Arrowsmith to their students. My mind started to open up, something new that I had not experienced before. I was able to talk to people more, such as joining in with their conversations. Conversations used to be too much to take in and hard to follow what they were saying but I could understand now. It made me feel happy and confident.

I started to feel happy and joyful that I understood more about life, and I felt like my brain was free. I felt like I was engaging more and open more to my family and friends and I didn’t feel left out anymore with my friends. I felt very calm talking to people now and I was able to get my words out instead of saying them at the last minute. I once was unable to speak but now I am confident and able to do public speaking like I am here reading my graduation speech. I am joyful that I am free."

- Colt,  Arrowsmith Participant, U.S.A  

Unlocking Potential, Promoting Inclusion 

A neuroplastic approach, tailored to the specific needs of an individual’s profile, holds extraordinary potential to those impacted by an ASD diagnosis.  

While Arrowsmith is not suitable for all individuals with an ASD diagnosis, and will not directly address features specifically to ASD, it is recommended that any family supporting an individual identified with high-functioning ASD or with Aspergers should contact an Arrowsmith Provider. Through this consultation, Arrowsmith-trained facilitators can identify whether the cognitive program would be a suitable fit.  

If considered a good fit, participation in Arrowsmith’s facilitated and targeted programming provides individuals the chance to fundamentally enhance their cognitive profiles. Through this, a transformation can occur:  gains in independence, essential academic and social skills, and importantly – the achievement of their life’s goals. Families can redefine their own futures, now able to see the potential in their child’s independence.  At a larger scale, schools and society as a whole can embrace a more inclusive world.  

As science and society continue to advance the understanding of autism, Arrowsmith is proud to play even a small role in the opportunities for individuals with autism on their journey toward fulfilling and meaningful lives. Contact an Arrowsmith Provider to learn more about the approach and whether it’s a good fit for your child or someone you know.  

Tara Bonner
Post by Tara Bonner
April 12, 2024
Tara Bonner collaborates with professionals and educators worldwide, envisioning the convergence of learning and neuroscience. Tara has witnessed that cognitive programming can be a transformative force not just for struggling learners, but for all seeking to experience learning with ease and joy. She's honored to be part of these discussions and an organization that's revolutionizing education by putting the "Brain in Education."