children with autism

Enhance academic performance in children with autism by attention training

Based on recent study attention training has the potential to reduce obstacles for academic attainment in autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Attention atypicality is often found in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with reports of initial difficulties in attention related to the development of core ASD symptoms.  Importantly, attention capacity is closely linked to learning and academic performance, including in the context of ASD children and adults, who tend to show difficulties in writing and reading comprehension, and math. Individuals with ASD may also present academic difficulties and it is possible that they face a double-barrier for academic attainment from both core autism symptomatology and from attention atypicality, which are directly linked to academic performance. This raises the possibility that academic difficulties in ASD may benefit from cognitive training targeting attention.

To test this possibility, a new study used the computerized progressive attentional training (CPAT) intervention in a double-blind, active control with follow-up intervention study in Brazil. The CPAT is a computerized attention training program that was recently piloted with schoolchildren with ASD in the UK. This study, which was conducted in a public health setting in Brazil, extends previous research in schools in the UK pointing to the cross-cultural and cross-settings efficacy of the intervention. Twenty-six participants (8–14 years) with autism in the São Paulo’s autism spectrum disorder Reference Unit were assigned to either the CPAT (n = 14) or active control group (n = 12), which were matched at baseline. Two 45-min intervention sessions per week were conducted over a 2-month period. School performance, attention, fluid intelligence, and behavior were assessed before, immediately after, and 3 months following the intervention. 

Significant group-by-time interactions show improvements in math, reading, writing, and attention that were maintained at follow-up for the CPAT (but not the active control) group, while parents of children from both groups tended to report behavioral improvements.  The improvements we report are stable and were maintained 3-months following the intervention.

The results showed that attention training has the potential to reduce obstacles for academic attainment in autism spectrum disorder. Combined with the previous pilot study, the current results point to the generality of the approach, which leads to similar outcomes in different cultural and social contexts.

Source: Spaniol, M. M., Mevorach, C., Shalev, L., Teixeira, M. C. T. V., Lowenthal, R., & de Paula, C. S. (2021). Attention training in children with autism spectrum disorder improves academic performance: A double-blind pilot application of the computerized progressive attentional training program. Autism Research, 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2566

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