New Autism Education Method Pioneered in Israel Improves Visual Capabilities

Business

Autism

A new study from Tel Aviv University proposes a new learning method for people with autism that may accelerate the learning process and even significantly improve capabilities in terms of visual perception. According to the researchers, improving the perceptual capacity of people with autism is often a challenge, which usually requires long and tedious training alongside additional learning challenges that characterizes autism, such as the ability to generalize learning to new situations.

AutismSpeaks.org explains that autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States today.


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People with autism can be more sensitive to external stimuli like bright light and sounds than other people. This is called hypersensitivity. This means that people on the autism spectrum have a hard time dealing with certain sounds and sights and try to avoid them, or may even seem to the general public to have disproportionate reactions to such stimuli.

If you ever saw the movie “Rain Man,” then you would have seen the actor Dustin Hoffman portray such a person reacting to everyday stimuli that do not bother the rest of us.

According to the researchers from Tel Aviv University, improving the perceptual capabilities of people with autism is a difficult challenge, requiring long and tedious training along with the difficulty that characterizes autism to generalize learning to other areas.

The new method proposed by the researchers is based on utilizing “memory flashes,” which consists of exposing a person for just a few seconds to a task that has already been learned. In comparison to standard teaching practice which reinforce length and repetition of new skills, the new method demonstrated success in improving both the visual perception capabilities and the generalization of learning – that is, excelling in a similar task in conditions they have not learned before – for people with autism.

In the study, the research team examined about 30 high-functioning adults with autism who were asked to learn a visual task (for example, identifying the direction of lines that appear for a few milliseconds on the screen). However, instead of repeating the task for a long time each day, the examinees in the main experimental group learned the task in depth on the first day, and in the following days were exposed to the visual stimulus for only a few seconds. At the end of the process, although the study participants studied the task for a minimal amount of time, their performance improved significantly, by about 20–25%, similar to multiple-repetition learning and similar to the achievements of subjects without autism.

Moreover, even when presented with a task under new, unlearned conditions (for example, when the stimulus learned is in a new location), the examinees who learned the memory flash method performed better than those in the control group; that is, they knew how to generalize the skills learned in the first task. The participants’ success in generalizing the learning to other situations is considered quite significant, as these are skills that people with autism have great difficulty with.

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