Original Research

Weak central coherence is a syndrome of autism spectrum disorder during teacher–learner task instructions

Petronella S. de Jager, Janet Condy
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 10, No 1 | a785 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v10i1.785 | © 2020 Petronella S. de Jager | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 June 2019 | Published: 14 December 2020

About the author(s)

Petronella S. de Jager, Department of Education, Faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa
Janet Condy, Literacy Development, Faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa

Share this article

Bookmark and Share


Background: Whilst it is known that weak central coherence (WCC) and global information processing (GIP) challenges contribute to teacher–learner task instruction challenges in learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are limited data on how teachers in inclusive classrooms respond. Weak central coherence and GIP behaviours manifest in classrooms when learners with ASD focus narrowly on minute detail whilst ignoring teachers’ instructions.

Aim: The aim of the study was to describe three case studies of teacher–ASD learner verbal interactions during task instructions in inclusive classrooms.

Setting: Three Grade 3, 9-year-old learners and their teachers were purposively sampled. The learners had been clinically diagnosed with ASD by an independent clinical educational psychologist. The learners’ schools, one government inclusive mainstream and one private school, were located in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Methods: An interpretive qualitative case study design was chosen with non-participant observations and individual semi-structured interviews. The data were inductively analysed.

Results: The learners with ASD struggled to comprehend the general classroom discussions and fixated on minute details. This obsessive behaviour was manifested in their inability to appreciate the global perspective of a situation. These tendencies often led to social isolation.

Conclusion: This study highlights a deeper level of misunderstanding during teacher–ASD learner verbal interactions during task instructions. Learners understood the immediate or literal meaning of the verbal instructions, but were persistently pre-occupied with only one part of their teachers’ instructions and persevered with smaller details. This study was limited to three learners with ASD, and more studies are required to confirm the results.


autism spectrum disorder (ASD); global information processing (GIP); inclusive classrooms; interpretive case study; qualitative study; teacher–ASD learner verbal instructions; weak central coherence (WCC)


Total abstract views: 669
Total article views: 828

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.