The parent is the child’s partner in learning all about their world. An infant or toddler would never be able to sort out all of information they receive on a daily basis, on their own. Each new object an infant touches, knocks over, explores, or a new person they are held by, or a new voice they hear, are all pieces of information being delivered to an infant. When a toddler reaches too far for an object and becomes startled as they lose their balance and fall on their belly, information is being delivered. This information is given as they explore their world and interactions and consequences are experienced.
Now imagine an infant sorting out all of that information without a guide. The information may be received by the child through sight, touch, sound, smells, or even taste, but then all those experiences would be lost, misread, or “mis-categorized” within their minds.
An infant uses their guide’s facial expression or gestures, such as reaching out or pointing to something or someone, to encode information. This information is stored and then used when the infant or toddler finds themselves in the same or similar situation. This information could not be gained without the help of an infant’s guide or “partner in learning.” In most cases, their partner, is their parent.
Yoon (2008) studied infants’ abilities to gain information about objects in their environment. The research suggests that we are all born with an innate ability to learn new things simply by paying attention to the people in their environment. We are born with a natural ability to pay attention to those in our environment who are giving us information. An infant’s ability to acquire information and to be guided by a parent to sort through the details of new data and to be able to focus on that one important detail is of the highest level of thinking and learning that they will achieve even in their later academic years. This is all accomplished simply by observing their learning partner, their parent.
This theory and research can be applied to children with autism. If we are all born with a natural ability to obtain information from our guides in the environment, then we should pay attention to the information we are delivering to a child. Facial expression and non-verbal communications such as pointing or gesturing are powerful teaching strategies. They are all that is necessary to help a child to experience and encode new information given to them by their learning partners.
Yoon, J., Johnson, M. & Csibra, G. (2008). Communication-induced memory biases in preverbal infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sceinces of the United States of America. 105 (36)
Stephanie M. Hicks, M. S., BCaBA