How Do Students With Autism Learn Best?


As any teacher or parent can tell you, every student learns differently, including individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“There is not one type of autism, and no two students with autism are alike,” said Rachael Conner, M.Ed, Director of Autism Services at Penn Highlands Regional Center for Autism in Connellsville, Penna. “People with ASD often communicate and learn differently, not only from those without ASD, but also among others with autism.”

ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. It usually begins before the age of 3 and lasts throughout a person’s lifetime, although symptoms may improve over time.

“The new autism prevalence numbers were released in March. The new autism prevalence is 1 in 36 is diagnosed with autism. This is up once again from 1 in 44 in 2021,” said Ms. Conner. “Autism can manifest in a wide range of behaviors and abilities. Some individuals have advanced conversation skills while others are nonverbal. And, while autism is not a learning disability, it can affect how a student learns.”

Because autism is so varied, students with autism need personalized learning plans tailored to their unique needs. These are called Individualized Education Plans.

What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

Autism is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures students with autism have the opportunity to interact and learn with their peers and to participate in the general education curriculum. As part the IDEA, students with autism are entitled to an IEP, specially designed to meet their education needs. An IEP sets goals and objectives, and it describes what services a child will receive as part of their education, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavioral analysis.

What is applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and how is it effective for those with autism?

Applied behavior analysis is a therapy rooted in the intersection of behavior, environment and learning. Extensive research has proven ABA to be an evidence-based, data-driven methodology that benefits both children and families impacted by autism.

What other therapies are used in teaching students with autism?

  • Speech-language therapy addresses a variety of communication disorders with targeted treatment for articulation, expressive language, receptive language, pragmatic language, fluency, voice, cognition and safe swallowing.
  • Occupational therapy helps improve overall fine motor coordination/control, gross motor coordination/control, visual motor/visual perception skills and self-care skills to help students meet age-appropriate developmental milestones.
  • Physical therapy helps students improve their overall gross and fine motor skills in the school setting.
  • Vision therapy is targeted at helping students improve visual skills and ability, visual comfort, ease and efficiency as well as change visual processing or interpretation of visual information.
  • Orientation and mobility (O&M) therapy teaches students with visual impairments to travel safely, confidently and independently in their environment.
  • Hearing therapy is tailored for students with hearing loss and associated disorders, such as tinnitus, hyperacusis and other forms of hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity. Hearing therapy may include the use of American Sign Language and/or target auditory awareness and auditory comprehension.
  • Music therapy uses listening, singing, and/or playing instruments as a clinical approach to reducing stress, improving mood and self-expression.
  • Dog therapy promotes love, attention, and affection with hope and healing.

Understanding how students with autism learn best is crucial for creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment. By tailoring teaching methods to the specific needs of the students, educators can help all their students thrive academically and socially.

Penn Highlands Connellsville Regional Center for Autism provides families and children with autism in southwestern Pennsylvania with advanced educational and behavioral treatment. The licensed autism school is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital’s Center for Autism and has excellent outcomes in educational, medical and behavioral programming. Learn more at In addition, Penn Highlands Healthcare offers a variety of inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services to treat the unique mental health concerns of patients of all ages, including children ages 5 and up, adolescents, teens, adults and seniors. Learn more at