Autism and Spatial Awareness


There are many ways to teach and learn about spatial awareness through play.

Do you ever notice your child having issues with navigating their surroundings, or differentiating from left to right? Alternatively, do you notice that your child is exceptional at fixing complex puzzles, or is able to navigate locations well without a map? Respectively, your child could have low or high spatial awareness.


According to a study carried out by Zhang et al. (2020), children with higher Autism-like traits performed poorer in cognition tasks that focused on spatial working memory.


This article will mainly focus on the link between Autism and poor spatial awareness, signs of poor spatial awareness, and activities to help nurture a child’s spatial awareness!

Signs of Poor Spatial Awareness (Epstein, 2014), (“What’s Important About Spatial Awareness?”, n.d.)

  • Child has difficulty differentiating directions and prepositions

  • Difficulty differentiating between left and right, on and under, front and behind

  • Has trouble reading and following a map


  • Child has issues in accurately gauge distance

  • Child may stand too near or far from an object

  • Difficulty in placing items in correct area (e.g., stacking toy rings onto a pole properly, stacking blocks on top of one another)

  • Has difficulty reaching arm out the correct distance to grab an object


  • Child has poor coordination in gross motor skills

  • Such as throwing and catching a ball

  • Difficulty dressing themselves


  • Child has difficulty with academics

  • Such as reading from left to right, up to down

  • Writing in the correct spaces or on lines

  • Writing too big or too small

  • Difficulty with mathematics

Activities to Work on Spatial Awareness


Playing Hide-and-Seek is an exceptionally fun way to teach a child about spatial awareness and awareness of their surrounding environment! Take turns hiding and seeking to allow the child to explore the area. Alternatively, try hiding a toy or a stuffed animal in the room, and have the child search around for it.


You may also try to integrate teaching directions by giving instructions on how to get to the hidden toy (i.e., “turn to your right and take three steps forward”)!

“I Spy” is another fun game to play with a child to get them to scan and locate objects in the environment! Take turns to choose an object that is in view and describe it (i.e., “I spy… something white and fluffy!”). This can help the child practice their visual performance and be aware about what is around them.

Playing with blocks is also another fun way to work on hand-eye coordination, visual performance, and placing items in the correct area. You can try stacking the blocks in a certain sequence, and get the child to copy the same! Stacking blocks can help children learn how to accurately move and arrange blocks in a given area to ensure that the structure does not collapse.

Ultimately, there are many ways to teach and learn about spatial awareness through play. Although it may be a bit concerning to parents that their child is unable to move around in an area safely or is unable to do certain tasks that require a higher amount of spatial awareness - this skill can be developed through a motivating and stimulating environment! All children develop at their own paces. Make sure to work at the child’s level, and ensure they are having fun!


Written by Ashely.


References

Epstein, V. (2014, March 17). Spatial awareness difficulties: Does your child have this problem? Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://parenting.kars4kids.org/spatial-awareness-difficulties-child-problem/


What’s Important About Spatial Awareness? (n.d.).

Zhang, M., Jiao, J., Hu, X., Yang, P., Huang, Y., Situ, M., . . . Huang, Y. (2020). Exploring the spatial working memory and visual perception in children with autism spectrum disorder and general population with high autism-like traits. PLOS ONE,15(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235552

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