Cognitive abilities may range from delayed, typical or gifted intelligence

Some cognitive differences for students on the spectrum may include:

  • weakness in abstract thinking
  • difficulty knowing what to pay attention to
  • generalizing a skill
  • Executive Dysfunction: difficulty in developing structure

            -knowing how to plan and organize

            -accepting change and adjusting plans

            -setting up materials for work

            -multiple step assignments

  • Weak Central Coherence: difficulty seeing the whole or being able to understand the big picture from pieces (i.e. listing facts about a war but not understanding how it changed the country)


Visual Supports

  • picture directions of steps to follow can help with organization
  • graphic organizers to help students make connections to the big picture
  • visual schedules

Structured Work Settings: defined area that has visual reminders, personal space and organization

Clearly defined expectations:

  • teaching roles and routines
  • stating objectives and how we will accomplish them
  • explain steps, model them and practice

Analyze what you are asking students to do:

  • is the skill too hard?
  • has the skill been taught?
  • do you have the necessary supports?


  • preparing student for daily activity
  • reviewing schedule of changes, assignments and activities

It is important to capitalize on cognitive strengths that students with ASD present, such as intense interests and strong rote memory.  At the same time weakness in executive functioning (working memory, inhibition, planning, flexibility, task initiation, and self regulation), weak central coherence (integrating information into the whole), unevenness of skills, and difficulty with abstract concepts create difficulties in academic settings.  Academic demands must be adjusted in order to minimize the impact of these and other possible deficits.

Attention Deficit Tips:

  • Provide frequent reinforcement
  • Break larger projects into smaller, more manageable parts to facilitate work completion
  • Increase the pace of instruction and vary instructional methods
  • Reduce distraction by designating a quiet place to work
  • Allow for movement in the classroom and provide fidgets, snacks, or drinks of water

Central Coherence Deficit Tips:
  • Graphic organizers or spatial learning strategies such as webbing and mapping (this will make abstract material more concrete)
  • Word Banks “limits the forest” so that the student does have to think of and rule out all possibilities
  • Color coding uses the strength in visual processing to organize subjects or concepts
  • Highlighted materials aid in learner in recognizing key concepts among other details