Tel Aviv University researchers developed a new learning method for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that can potentially improve visual perception and published their work in Current Biology. The researchers found that brief refreshers or memory flashes that last only seconds helped individuals with ASD learn 30% faster than conventional learning methods.
A common learning challenge for many people with autism is the ability to generalize learning to new situations and environments. 90% of individuals with ASD have atypical sensory perception. Previous autism research studies have observed stronger local attention and weaker global attention which means many people with ASD are highly attentive to details but may not initially note features of the larger environment or situation.
For the study, high-functioning adults with ASD were asked to look at the center of a screen displaying a complex image of shapes and lines on one part of the screen. They were asked a detailed question related to its appearance to examine how the participants used subsequent images in other parts of the screen. To evaluate the effectiveness of using memory flashes to solve these digital puzzles, participants underwent a long initial training. Some were given three very quick refresher sessions, followed by a few seconds to practice solving the images. Those participants who got the refresher were 20- 30% better at transferring newly-acquired skills to solve images in changing locations on the screen than those who just did the initial training.
The brief memory flashes helped participants master skills in a more efficient manner. According to study author Dr. Nitzan Censor, “This group performed only five trials of the task in each session, which lasted for 10 seconds in total, instead of carrying out the task hundreds of times, yet showed greater adaptability.” The method can potentially enhance the capability to transfer a specific skill or concept in academic settings or learning a musical instrument or new hobby.
Understanding visual perception in autism can improve consistency of diagnosis and awareness in society as well as more meaningful approaches to learning for those with ASD.