Study reveals attention training can result in significant improvements in academic performance for young people with autism


According to the findings of a new study, attention training can result in significant improvements in academic performance for young people with autism. The study’s findings have been published in the journal ‘Autism Research.’ The University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with institutions in Sao Paolo, Brazil, tested a computer programme designed to improve basic attention skills in a group of autistic children aged eight to fourteen years old.

The researchers discovered that participants improved their math, reading, writing, and overall attention skills immediately following the training and at a three-month follow-up assessment.

Dr Carmel Mevorach, the study’s lead researcher and a professor at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health and School of Psychology, stated, “We have only recently begun to pay attention to how autistic people pay attention in addition to how they interact and socialise. Attention is a fundamental cognitive process, and improving one’s control over it can have a positive effect on other behaviours as well as one’s ability to learn.”

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The study involved 26 participants with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who were treated at the Sao Paolo ASD Reference Unit, a specialised children’s treatment facility. For eight weeks, the children attended 45-minute training sessions twice a week.

Half of the group used a computer programme called CPAT – Computerised Progressive Attentional Training – that the Birmingham team developed in collaboration with researchers at Tel-Aviv University in Israel as part of a previous project. The CPAT programme includes training games that target various types of attention and progress in difficulty.

The second half of the group served as a control group and was assigned to play standard computer games. The trial was designed in such a way that neither the children, their families, nor the researchers assessing them knew which group they were in; instead, they were told they would be playing games that would aid them in school.

Within 10 minutes of completing the training, the CPAT group demonstrated an increase in the number of isolated words they could correctly identify and read (an increase from around 44 to around 53).

Additionally, they were able to increase the number of words they could copy from approximately 18 to approximately 25. The CPAT group improved their math scores by more than 50%. All of these improvements were maintained three months after the children completed the programme.

In comparison, participants in the control group demonstrated no evidence of improvement in any of the three areas.

The CPAT programme is currently included in the Erasmus+ project Teacher Training in Attention in Autism (TTAA), which includes partners from Greece, Spain, Israel, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, the team is conducting local pilot projects with schools in each country to enable teachers to integrate it into their setting in whatever way they believe will work best.

Dr Mevorach continued, “We’ve discovered that by allowing teachers to experiment with CPAT, we’re learning a great deal more about its potential benefits. Because autism is highly individual, it is critical to develop an intervention that can be tailored to a specific individual or setting.”

The next stage of the research will be to conduct a larger clinical trial to determine the intervention’s potential impact. The Economic and Social Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, and the European Union’s Erasmus Programme funded the research in the United Kingdom.

source: ANI

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