Cognitive rigidity is often seen in children with autism. This phenomena is the inability to mentally adapt to new demands or information, and is contradicted with the cognitive flexibility to consider different perspectives and opinions, and are able to adapt with more ease to changes. It is more accurate to consider cognitive rigidity as a dimensional model, rather than an absolute one; even in neurotypical people, we can see differences in people’s adaptive ability. While this trait is not definitively good or bad, the levels of rigidity in typical cases of autism are generally maladaptive for the environment that they live in.

Some traits characteristic of the cognitive rigidity found in autism are concrete, literal and absolute thinking, black and white expectations and rules with little interpretative room, and rigid, inflexible thinking and beliefs (cognitive distortions). Predictability is welcome to the autistic child, even comforting. Change, on the other hand, creates insecurity and anxiety, and can lead to a meltdown if done too abruptly. Unfortunately, the world we created today is rarely accommodating to the predictability they thrive in. Circumstances are ever-changing and may not be within our control; we have created unspoken social rules that may not always be logical; even in our language we have sarcasm, irony and metaphors.

To help your child cope with the variability of their environment, create some structure that they can follow instead. Create a schedule or routine for the day, to give the child some predictability. As such children are more likely to overly focus on details, teaching them to zoom out and grasp the overall view of the situation will help them have a balanced view of what is happening around them. Help them cope with their frustration and anxiety by building their skills for flexibility and dealing with negative emotions.

At Nurture Pods’ Centre for Child Development and Early Intervention, your child will be taught the above, along other skills in a curriculum individualized to their own needs, in a structured and predictable environment. Your child will either attend a structured class or preparatory class, based on his/her needs. The structured class targets various developmental domains, while the preparatory class is aimed at preparing children to transition into mainstream schools, be it kindergartens or primary schools.

How to Use Inflexibility to Teach Flexibility. Organization for Autism Research. Retrieved from

Rigid/Restricted Thinking. Retrieved from