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The word neurological is defined by the Oxford dictionary, as anything “relating to the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of nerves and the nervous system.” (Oxford Languages, n.d.). The neurological perspective on (dis)abilities focuses on the nervous system and how the nervous system affects different abilities within people. There are multiple different theories relating to neuroscience and to the different kinds of (dis)abilities. These theories
focus on the brain.

This section outlines neurological perspectives children on the ASD spectrum. The reasoning for focusing on children on the autism spectrum throughout this chapter is because it’s a good example of how the neurological perspective works, which you can then extend to how this perspective would view other learning challenges.


  • How might this perspective differ from the perspectives in previous sections?
  • Why might some people prefer this perspective? Why might some not embrace it?

Neuroscientists view the brain as a, “complex web of integrated and overlapping networks.” (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 29). Changes in the connections within the networks are a part of how we learn new information. Modern neuroscientists explain that the brain is made up of different kinds of tissue. The most significant part of our brain is not just the neurons that can be seen within the brain, but the “astonishing interconnectivity between them.” (Rose & Gordon, 2014, pg. 29).

Fun Brain Fact : In the brain approximately one trillion neurons in the cortex are linked by approximately 100 trillion connections (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30).

Brain research now shows that, “learning actually changes the brain: the neurons don’t change but the interconnections do.” (Rose & Gordon, 2014, pg. 30). Neurological perspectives view individual learning differences as, “differences in the activity of small, specialized networks.” (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30).  To neuroscientists, individual brains are, “distinctive in their anatomy, chemistry and physiology,” (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30). Just like our fingerprints, our brains are unique (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30).

One component of the neurological influences in the brain concerns executive functioning, which is a “set of domains of functions that regulate, and manage behaviours, emotions and certain cognitive processes” (University of Hertfordshire, 2020). This function in the body is important for problem-solving and self-awareness. The executive function is crucial for learning how to adapt to different environments. 

The executive part of the brain is made up of the frontal system, which includes the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe is connected to many parts of the brain, however it is mainly connected to these three parts of the brain  (in easy terms)

  1. the emotional brain
  2. the attention and arousal brain 
  3. the reticular activating system (RAS); the processing network for sensory perception and memory.  


During the development of the executive brain (from the last three months of pregnancy to when a child reaches about two years old) there is intense activity in the cerebral cortex. The brain at this stage is very vulnerable to damage and the disruption of connections between neurons.  (University of Hertfordshire, 2020). 



Brain Research and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) 

The neurological perspective uses evidence from brain research that may indicate that the cerebral cortexes of people with ASD differ from people who are not on the spectrum. The brain’s volume generally decreases after children reach the age of 2.  This decrease does not happen for children aged 2 – 4 on the autism spectrum. The increased brain volume affects development within the cortex, which could lead to the failure of synaptic connections. (University of Hertfordshire, 2020).

Researchers have explored how the brains of individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum differ from those not diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Both groups engaged in exactly the same task, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, an intelligence measure task, where “participants recognize and comprehend visual patterns” (Rose & Gorgon, 2014, p.30), while researchers measured the individual’s brain activity using FMRIs and PET scans.  

The Raven’s Progressive Matrices encompasses a 60 multiple choice item test, listed in order of difficulty. In each question, “the subject is asked to identify the missing element that completes a pattern” (Wikipedia Contributors, 2020). They found that there was no main difference between the two groups in almost all areas of the brain, except one; one area of the brain was being used by the group on the autism spectrum, and not being used by the other group. (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30).

Food for thought:

How might you interpret the neurological perspective? Do you see findings like this aligning with a  deficit perspective?

During the task mentioned above, individuals on the autism spectrum performed better than their peers. The scientists were not looking for sources of disability but rather variability; they were looking for differences in the brains of individuals on the autism spectrum who have enhanced abilities. Whether the variation is a liability, or a benefit depends on the task being performed. For the particular Raven’s Matrices task individuals with ASD performed better. (Rose & Gordon, 2014, p. 30).  

People with ASD have what some experts call invisible (dis)abilities. These are cognitive or affective differences that are not visible or noticeable until you interact with the learner.

Neuroscientists differ in their assessment and analysis of neurological influences on (dis)abilities. There is not one view on this perspective. Each (dis)ability is different; there may not be one answer about the cause/impact of the different abilities that a person may have.


  • What are your thoughts on the influence of neuroscience in defining and labelling invisible (dis)abilities? Use any form of expression to answer this question in a few sentences.
  • Have your thoughts differed from your first thoughts on neurological perspectives on (dis)abilities? If so, how?

When teaching in international schools, it is important to observe and get to know your students to guide you on how to help each student to achieve to the best of their ability. Learning that children on the autism spectrum perform better on tasks such as the intelligence measure task can be applied when you support your students with ASD. This might be a long learning journey for you and for your students, but it is important to remember that there are multiple factors that play a role in a student’s learning (neurologically or not). It is our job to continuously try out different learning techniques that can help the student learn best.



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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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