What are the Cognitive Effects of Autism in Children?

Disclaimer: We always strive for inclusion. In this article, we are primarily using identity-first language which is often the preferred phrasing of individuals within the autism community. However, we know that there are varying opinions on whether identity-first or person-first language is more respectful. Please know that we have the utmost respect for the autism community and are always seeking to learn and to be inclusive to all.

Autism can present differently between individuals. Some people are diagnosed with autism in adulthood, while many are diagnosed as children. Of course, children can have a particularly difficult time because they’re still learning how to behave and react in the world. When the adults in their life are equipped with knowledge about the child’s autism, it can be helpful for the child’s wellbeing. In this article, we’ll explore what cognitive effects autism may have in children, and why this information is helpful to understand.

Cognition in autistic children

Certain cognitive skills tend to be affected in autistic children. In particular, social cognition skills and executive functions (such as planning and problem-solving) may be difficult for autistic children.

Strengths and challenges

Autistic children may have trouble with executive function skills and/or social cognition skills. These can include:

  • Theory of Mind – this refers to the knowledge that other do not share our same thoughts and feelings. Individuals with autism may have delayed or lessened theory of mind, and therefore have trouble with social interaction.
  • Emotion regulation – Children with autism may be prone to tantrums or getting upset, even hitting themselves or others. 
  • Inhibition – Part of executive function skills is the ability to inhibit behaviors that may have a negative impact, such as yelling or socially withdrawing.
  • Planning – This skill includes the ability to think ahead and manage time. Children with autism may struggle with this skill. Visual reminders, schedules, and timers may help to keep kids on track in their daily life.

While it’s important to understand which cognitive skills may provide more difficulty for children with autism, it’s also very important to acknowledge that some skills may be strengthened! Autistic children may show strengths such as keen attention to detail, the ability to memorize a vast amount of information about subjects of interest, and dedication to activities that interest them.

Why is this helpful to know?

For clinicians, parents, teachers, and care workers who spend time with autistic children, it can be helpful to have an understanding of which cognitive skills the child may have trouble with. Empowered with this knowledge, adults in the child’s life can help them to feel accepted and potentially work on certain skills.

In some cases, cognitive effects are less pronounced in adulthood, since the individual may learn coping strategies and gain life experience that helps them to understand their own mind. The adults in a child’s life can help in this process.

In some cases, therapy involving cognitive stimulation using tools such as HappyNeuron Pro may help autistic individuals to work on these skills.

Quick summary

  • Autism is often diagnosed in childhood. 
  • Autistic children may struggle with certain cognitive abilities such as theory of mind and emotion regulation.
  • They may also exhibit cognitive strengths such as attention to detail and a strong memory.
  • When the adults in a child’s life understand the condition and the child’s specific needs, they can more effectively help the child in daily life and with their long-term growth.
Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

Related Content in Age Related,Autism,Children,Cognitive Conditions,Cognitive Stimulation,Cognitive Therapy,Occupational Therapy,Professions,Psychology,Speech and Language Pathology

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