Skip to main content

Accurate or Assumed: Visual Learning in Children with ASD

Abstract

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often described as visual learners. We tested this assumption in an experiment in which 25 children with ASD, 19 children with global developmental delay (GDD), and 17 typically developing (TD) children were presented a series of videos via an eye tracker in which an actor instructed them to manipulate objects in speech-only and speech + pictures conditions. We found no group differences in visual attention to the stimuli. The GDD and TD groups performed better when pictures were available, whereas the ASD group did not. Performance of children with ASD and GDD was positively correlated with visual attention and receptive language. We found no evidence of a prominent visual learning style in the ASD group.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Text revision (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, C. J., Colombo, J., & Shaddy, D. J. (2006). Visual scanning and pupillary responses in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 28(7), 1238–1256. doi:10.1080/13803390500376790.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dakin, S., & Frith, U. (2005). Vagaries of visual perception in autism. Neuron, 48, 497–507.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dalton, K. M., Nacewicz, B. M., Alexander, A. L., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Gaze-fixation, brain activation, and amygdala volume in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. Biological Psychiatry, 61(4), 512–520. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.05.019.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dalton, K. M., Nacewicz, B. M., Johnstone, T., Schaefer, H. S., Gernsbacher, M. A., Goldsmith, H. H., et al. (2005). Gaze fixation and the neural circuitry of face processing in autism. Nature Neuroscience, 8(4), 519–526. doi:10.1038/Nn1421.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Erdődi, L., Lajiness-O’Neill, R., & Schmitt, T. (2013). Learning curve analyses in neurodevelopmental disorders: Are children with Autism Spectrum Disorder truly visual learners? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 880–890. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1630-9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Foley, B. E., & Staples, A. H. (2003). Developing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and literacy interventions in a supported employment setting. Topics in Language Disorders, 23(4), 325–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ganz, J. B., Earles-Vollrath, T. L., Heath, A. K., Parker, R. I., Rispoli, M. J., & Duran, J. B. (2012). A meta-analysis of single case research studies on aided augmentative and alternative communication systems with individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(1), 60–74. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1212-2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Glass, G. V., Peckham, P. D., & Sanders, J. R. (1972). Consequences of failure to meet assumptions underlying the fixed effects analyses of variance and covariance. Review of Educational Research, 42(3), 237–288. doi:10.3102/00346543042003237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goods, K. S., Ishijima, E., Chang, Y. C., & Kasari, C. (2013). Preschool based JASPER intervention in minimally verbal children with autism: Pilot RCT. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(5), 1050–1056. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1644-3.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Goosens’, C., Crain, S., & Elder, P. (1995). Engineering the preschool environment for interactive, symbolic communication: An emphasis on the developmental period, 18 months to five Years. Birmingham, AL: Southeast Augmentative Communication Conference Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grandin, T. (2013). Thinking in pictures with 2006 updates from the expanded edition. Retrieved October 20, 2013. http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.html

  • Grelotti, D. J., Gauthier, I., & Schultz, R. T. (2002). Social interest and the development of cortical face specialization: What autism teaches us about face processing. Developmental Psychobiology, 40(3), 213–225. doi:10.1002/Dev.10028.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hermelin, B., & O’Connor, N. (1970). Psychological experiments with autistic children. London: Pergamon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hines, M., Balandin, S., & Togher, L. (2012). Buried by autism: Older parents’ perceptions of autism. Autism, 16(1), 15–26. doi:10.1177/1362361311416678.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H, Jr, Leventhal, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Muhle, R., Trentacoste, S. V., & Rapin, I. (2004). The genetics of autism. Pediatrics, 113(5), E472–E486. doi:10.1542/peds.113.5.e472.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mullen, E. (1995). Mullen scales of early learning. Cicle Pines, MN: AGS.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pierce, K., Glad, K. S., & Schreibman, L. (1997). Social perception in children with autism: An attentional deficit. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27(3), 265–281.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Preis, J. (2006). The effect of picture communication symbols on the verbal comprehnsion of commands by young children with autism. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 21, 194–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Quill, K. A. (1997). Instructional considerations for young children with autism: The rationale for visually cued instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27(4), 697–714.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ralph, K. J. (2012) COGMED claims and evidence, version 2.0. Retrieved November 01, 2014. file:///Users/davidtrembath/Downloads/Cogmed__Research_Claims_and_Evidence.pdf

  • Rao, S. M., & Gagie, B. (2006). Learning through seeing and doing: Visual supports for children with autism. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38, 26–33.

    Google Scholar 

  • Romski, M. A., & Sevcik, R. A. (1996). Breaking the speech barrier: Language development through augmented means. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rutter, M., Bailey, A., Lord, C., & Berument, S. K. (2003). Social Communication Questionnaire. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

    Google Scholar 

  • Samson, F., Mottron, L., Soulières, I., & Zeffiro, T. (2012). Enhanced visual functioning in autism: An ALE meta-analysis. Human Brain Mapping, 33, 1553–1581.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, N. J., Turner-Brown, L. M., Holtzclaw, T. N., Lam, K. S. L., & Bodfish, J. W. (2008). Children with autism demonstrate circumscribed attention during passive viewing of complex social and nonsocial picture arrays. Autism Research, 1(1), 31–42. doi:10.1002/Aur.4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Scherf, K. S., Behrmann, M., Minshew, N., & Luna, B. (2008). Atypical development of face and greeble recognition in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(8), 838–847. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01903.x.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Shevell, M., Ashwal, S., Donley, D., Flint, J., Gingold, M., Hirtz, D., et al. (2003). Practice parameter—Evaluation of the child with global developmental delay: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and The Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society. [Practice Guideline]. Neurology, 60(3), 367–380.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Speech Pathology Australia. (2010). Position paper: Evidence based speech pathology practice for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Melbourne: Speech Pathology Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Szatmari, P. (1999). Heterogeneity and the genetics of autism. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 24(2), 159–165.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tissot, C., & Evans, R. (2003). Visual teaching strategies for children with autism. Early Child Development and Care, 173(4), 425–433. doi:10.1080/0300443032000079104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trembath, D., Iacono, T., Lyon, K., West, D., & Johnson, H. (2013). Augmentative and alternative communication supports for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism,. doi:10.1177/1362361313486204.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vivanti, G., & Dissanayake, C. (2014). Propensity to imitate in autism is not modulated by the model’s gaze direction: An eye-tracking study. Autism Research. doi:10.1002/aur.1376.

  • Vivanti, G., Dissanayake, C., Zierhut, C., & Rogers, S. J. (2013). Brief report: Predictors of outcomes in the Early Start Denver Model delivered in a group setting. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(7), 1717–1724. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1705-7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vivanti, G., McCormick, C., Young, G. S., Abucayan, F., Hatt, N., Nadig, A., et al. (2011). Intact and impaired mechanisms of action understanding in autism. [Research Support, Non-U.S. Government]. Developmental Psychology, 47(3), 841–856. doi:10.1037/a0023105.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vivanti, G., Prior, M., Williams, K., & Dissanayake, C. (2014a). Predictors of outcomes in autism early intervention: Why don’t we know more? Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2, 58. doi:10.3389/fped.2014.00058.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vivanti, G., Trembath, D., & Dissanayake, C. (2014b). Atypical monitoring and responsiveness to goal-directed gaze in autism spectrum disorder. Experimental Brain Research, 232(2), 695–701. doi:10.1007/s00221-013-3777-9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Vivanti, G., Trembath, D., & Dissanayake, C. (2014c). Mechanisms of imitation  impairment in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology,. doi:10.1007/s10802-014-9874-9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Waterhouse, L. H. (2013). Rethinking autism: Variation and complexity (1st ed.). London, Waltham, MA: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the children and parents involved in the study, the ASELCC Team who worked with our ASD group, staff at the La Trobe University Community Children’s Centre, and the Kalparrin Early Intervention Centre staff. We would also like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Emily Armstrong, Cherie Gree, Heather Nuske, Nicole Young, Carmela Germano, and Caterina Suares.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Trembath.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Trembath, D., Vivanti, G., Iacono, T. et al. Accurate or Assumed: Visual Learning in Children with ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 3276–3287 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2488-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2488-4

Keywords

  • Autism
  • Augmentative communication
  • AAC
  • Visual attention