The Speed of Learning. Slowing Down Children W/ Autism to Promote Comprehension and Retention

We all learn through repetition. This is a universal fact even for my son who is living with Autism. However the process of repetition for a typically developing child and a child on the spectrum differ greatly.


When I was a kid, I would watch my favorite movies over and over again. My family would have been delighted if the tapes magically disappeared, I watched them so many times they could recite the whole movie for me. I watched those movies all the way through and when they finished I would start it over from the beginning and watch them again. I was teaching myself through repetition.

My son does the same thing however with his own twist. He will watch a video on YouTube and when he gets to a part that he really likes he will run it back again and again, oh yes and again. He will do the same with his DVDs and MP3s. At first my initial reaction to this behavior was to stop him. It is very irritating and does not seem productive at all, and almost looks like stimming.

When I started to home school him I had the time to sit down and really observe this behavior. I noticed there was a difference between stimming and this kind of repetition. There was substance and information he was learning in these five second sound bites he was creating. I started to think if I could rewind as easily as he can and manipulate my VHS or cassette tapes as easily, would I have paid attention to the whole piece or fast forwarded to my favorite parts and repeated them over and over as well?

Most children on the autism spectrum are taught through ABA or Applied Behavioral Analysis. Which is a highly repetitive form of drilling. Which was exactly what my son was doing for himself. This is done because most children on the spectrum appear to lack the attention span that is required in a traditional lesson. I was taught a whole lesson as a child in school. It had sections that we moved through all week and then it all came together at the end for a review and test. Maybe that was why I had the attention span to watch my movies a whole time through and absorb the parts I really liked without pinpointing and repeating them. I was taught to learn this way. Maybe the lack of technology to support such a fast paced way of learning also kept me focused on the whole rather than a part.

So I decided to try an experiment with my son. The next time I saw him watching YouTube I stopped him from skip-repeating, and sat down with him. I asked ” J can I watch your video with you?” He obliged. He was watching someone sing “The Star Spangled Banner”. I started it from the beginning and when he went to skip-repeat I stopped and said ” wait, let’s watch the whole thing and then we can start it over.” He wasn’t sure what I meant by this and I had to stop him similarly several times before the five minute video was over but, when we restarted the video he understood and was very happy. His behaviors settled and he seemed to focus more as he awaited his favorite parts.

As much as I would love J to watch his videos from start to finish and take his time to process the information, it’s just not what he is accustomed to. Life is fast paced around him already from the way he naturally processes sensory.  Advances in technology and a learning style of ABA have reinforced this express form of processing information, but it doesn’t seem to leave room for comprehension or long-term retention nor real life application. After a year and a half of homeschooling and my constant redirection aka nagging, he knows now what I mean when I say “watch it from start to finish.” He will redirect when I ask him to but does much better when I take the time to sit with him, slow him down, and discuss what he is watching.

I was surprised how open-minded and welcoming he was to my suggestion of slowing down and watching something all the way through.  Sometimes it gets on his nerves because he wants to watch his videos at his pace and it seems to feel very unnatural for him to sit so still and be so focused, but he understands and retains the information better when I do this for him.

We are always reminding J to slow down, during homework, reading, prayers, brushing his teeth and it’s seemed to help him better those skills. Sometimes in our fast paced lives our children pick up on our haste and function at the same speed. Do you find that you need to redirect or slow down your child on the spectrum or yourself? How receptive are they to slowing down? Would love to hear about ways you slow down your child for added retention or even if you have the opposite problem.


2 thoughts on “The Speed of Learning. Slowing Down Children W/ Autism to Promote Comprehension and Retention

Add yours

  1. I always have to slow down my son’s eating, walking, and going up and down the stairs. I just have to remind him then he slows down a little. The next day he is right back at it. 😐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. NickyB. I have the same issue with my son and eating as well. I try to get him to count 20 chews, sometimes he does this properly and others he just speed counts to 20 so it was really only five seconds. They just move too fast for us 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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