3 Ways Autism Can Affect Early Learning and Why Assessment Matters


Many early childhood professionals and parents wonder at what age they should assess a child with potential symptoms of autism. While some children have clear indications that they need help in a school setting, there are many others with possible signs of autism that would benefit from early screening and assessment. Learn more about the ways autism can affect early learning in the following guide.

3 Ways Autism Can Affect Early Learning

Autism can affect learning in early education classrooms in several different ways. The earlier a child is given an assessment and correct diagnosis, the more time to address their symptoms and provide help. Consider the following reasons for the importance of assessing a preschool-aged child:

1. Attention

While autism is not the same as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, traits of the two diagnoses frequently overlap. Young children with autism, like their peers with ADHD, have trouble staying on task, switching between assignments, and following sequential directions. They may talk out of turn, get up and walk around when they can’t pay attention, or disrupt the class.

Often, a teacher unfamiliar with autism may attribute these symptoms to the child’s age or lack of parental discipline. A diagnosis can help teachers understand why a young person is having trouble “behaving” in the classroom.

2. Social Skills

It can be difficult to spot signs of autism in preschool-aged children as social skills are inconsistent at these ages. Children typically transition from parallel play (playing alongside peers) to playing with peers around three or four years old, but neurotypical children do not always hit these milestones on time.

Assessment can help determine why a child may be having difficulty playing with peers. For example, one child may have autism and not see the benefit of playing with a friend, while another may be shy and hesitant to ask a friend for a toy. At the same time, another child with autism symptoms may want to play with friends and transition out of the parallel play stage but not have the skills or language to do this successfully in the classroom.

3. Speech and Language

Speech and language difficulties often go hand-in-hand with social skills development. If a child has trouble communicating at the level of their peers, socialization, and school will be more difficult.

For example, a child with pragmatic language difficulties in preschool may not understand how to successfully navigate a conversation or a conflict with a friend — which can lead to trouble making friends in general. Screening early for autism at the first signs of communication difficulties will put the child and family in a better position to address these issues before formal schooling begins.

Find Professional Assessment Materials at WPS 

If you identify a young child that has potential symptoms of autism, conducting an early assessment such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) or the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS-2) may clarify the situation for parents and other professionals who work with the child. Browse WPS’s research-backed assessment tools today to help students succeed in school and beyond.