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The Bernstein Cognitive Method for Autism

Robert Bernstein has written two books on his unique and highly effective method for working with children with autism. Robert wrote the book "Uniquely Normal" which was met with great praise and six prestigious awards. His new manual "Uniquely Normal Manual" has specific guidelines and many step by step tools that will actually teach you to use my Bernstein Cognitive Approach for Autism.

In the original book, Uniquely Normal I tell you what I do. In the new Uniquely Normal Manual, I teach YOU how to do it. Read on to learn more about the Bernstein Cognitive Method and how it can help you and your loved ones. 

All About The Bernstein Cognitive Method for Autism 

“It’s for their own good” is the well-intentioned but ill-conceived mantra of many parents. Parents often approach autistic children with an agenda—they want the child to do something differently, they want change.


To truly love and work with autistic children, we need to accept them as they are, as their authentic selves. If we worry too much about “fitting in” and “making it” in the neurotypical world, we may actually stop them from doing just that.


Robert Bernstein teaches that accepting the authenticity of autistic children works. We want our autistic children to have happy and successful lives, but constant demands that they change inevitably tell them that who they are is wrong in our eyes. Does teaching them they must hide their authentic nature and keep up a facade sound like the roadmap to living their best lives?


Part of the beauty of Bernstein’s method is its simplicity. It works with children in their everyday environments, so it’s readily accessible and requires no props or tools. It focuses on doing the things that we know captivate the child’s attention and capitalizes on their natural absorption in those moments. There’s no judgment as to the importance or educational value of what interests the child. We start with whatever the child prefers.


The adult joins the child’s flow and moves with it, occasionally adding something new. This new step might further the child’s development in a way that is an extension of the child’s own behavior. By following the child instead of imposing an agenda, we respect their agency as a co-pilot, and choose a path together.


Bernstein’s method teaches language and skills by extending the child’s existing responses, gradually adding words or modeling behaviors (one at a time) that fit with what’s already happening. Starting at the child’s level, parents help the child develop new associations between existing interests, and new thoughts and behaviors. This kind of development doesn’t happen on demand. It takes whatever time is necessary for the child.


If we don’t let go of our original agenda, we judge the child critically in our minds if “nothing happens.” “Nothing” might happen for what seems like a long time—the point is patience and giving the child time to assimilate new information. Blaming the child for not being on our timeline is wrong. Sometimes change seems to come at a glacial speed.


Autistic children can be exquisitely sensitive to the emotions of others who are with them. If one is impatient, disappointed, or frustrated, they know it. They may feel ashamed that they’re letting us down, or might get frustrated and angry themselves. Either way, what we want to be a positive experience turns negative.


Bernstein shows us the power possible in the parent-child interaction, instead of relying solely on professionals to create change. This works with children of any neurotype. Parents have 24/7 access to their child in natural environments that are comfortable—the child’s own bedroom, backyard, or playground can be a “therapeutic” space.


There’s a lot to be said for “parent power.” All children want to feel their parents’ love, interest, and approval. When parents accept and join their autistic children and use step-by-step natural development that’s child-centered, the long-term impact can be profound.


Uniquely Normal Manual: Using the Bernstein Cognitive Method for Autism." It’s a practical help for parents, describing exercises taken from the original book so they can practice his methodology.


More about the Bernstein Cognitive Method

The Bernstein Cognitive Method is educational therapist Robert J. Bernstein’s unique cognitive approach to treating individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Robert diagnoses individual’s learning processes, and remediates learning and behavioral problems. He is able to help clients with ASD break out of their autistic tendencies and gain more typical functioning. He facilitates meaningful speech in children with limited and, in some cases, no speech, many of whom have not progressed in other therapeutic settings. His work often provides relief to families who have experienced years of frustration.


Robert's approach views each client first and foremost as a unique individual, with a unique set of strengths and challenges, within the context of typical development. As he observes and interacts with the child, teen, or young adult, he discovers where the gaps in his or her thought processes lie, and then provides opportunities for him to access his own innate capacity to develop more typically (e.g.; using meaningful language and becoming more socially aware and engaged).

Robert does not teach isolated, generic language or social skills. Typical children develop language and social behaviors in the context of daily life. Why should autistic individuals be expected to learn them in isolation, without meaningful contexts?

No matter how low functioning an individual may appear to be in particular areas, Robert knows how to facilitate, capture, and build on their small moments of normalcy (as one mom recently called them) so that they eventually overtake the autistic tendencies. Once progress begins it is often self-reinforcing; clients often feel better when they can function more typically; and there is often a cascade effect with accelerating progress.


Robert's approach focuses on the individual gaining self-awareness, as appropriate to his functional level; and gaining a perspective of himself in relation to others. This is possible at almost every stage of development, from a small child realizing that the shoe he is trying on is way too big or small for his foot, to a teenager understanding how he appears to another person whose question he has just ignored. Robert's approach often produces results that are more dramatic, and that require less time to achieve than traditional methods.

You may ask: If children with ASD, like typical children, are exposed to learning opportunities in the normal course of their days, why should this approach make a difference? The answer is that routine opportunities are not opportunities for the person with ASD. Robert's approach creates real opportunities for the individual with ASD because they come from Robert's understanding of each client’s unique set of developmental strengths and needs.

Children with ASD are often directed to therapists and schools that use a behavioral treatment strategy that often produces limited benefits, and in some case, actually makes things worse. Parents are often told that it is their children’s limitations that cause them to make so little progress, not that the therapy has limited benefits. In stark contrast, Rob has successfully enabled fundamental positive changes in many hundreds of clients with ASD, many of whom have landed in his office after little progress with traditional behavioral techniques.


The Bernstein Cognitive Method identifies clients’ underlying underdeveloped cognitive processes and uses everyday interactions, normal speech, and real-life situations to help them break ASD patterns of behavior and thinking. Once more typical patterns are established, clients feel better. Typical behavior is self-reinforcing. I often feel that there is a window of opportunity that presents itself in the current situation and now is the best time to make things better.

Based on clients’ individual strengths, interests, and needs, Robert has collaborated with yoga instructors, music therapists, oral musculature therapists, computer game designers, therapy dogs, and magicians. He is always willing to explore new ways of helping clients grow.

As they become better able to engage with other people, they become better able to communicate, learn, and take in and contribute to the world around them. Most importantly, Robert has introduced clients to potential friends who have gone on to establish genuine, healthy, relationships.

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