Patients with autism, it is believed, have difficulties processing a stream of information. They appear to be slow in sorting out information (processing) at the onset of a dynamic (audio-visual sequences) presentation allowing the remainder of the stream “to pass them by”. A group led by Carole Tardif PhD from Marseilles University in France attempted to test this supposition by slowing down the stream of information through use of a software program (10.1542/peds.2015-4207). When static stimuli (drawings, pictures) and dynamic ones (audio-visual sequences) were displayed to two children diagnosed with autism (ages 5 and 16) at real speed (RS) and at slowed speed (70% of RS) on a computer during 15 weekly sessions, the children demonstrated improved understanding during the slowed transmission as indicated by post viewing testing. In each session, participants were assessed on their ability to answer a five-question set on the content of the viewed stimuli and also assessed on their behavioral reactions to the material. Results showed that scores in answering the five questions and assessment of behavior including attention, nonverbal communication, and social reciprocity significantly improved in the slowed presentation compared to the RS presentation.
This is a pilot study in a difficult to control study environment subject to biases and Hawthorne effects and as such should be read with healthy skepticism. However, the findings in this case report are fascinating to consider, since this approach might offer the potential to assist patients with autism to better acquire and retain information without pharmacotherapy or other more aggressive educational interventions. Tardif et al’s Case Report is a potential starting point for a bigger and better controlled study to investigate if this finding is something substantive to add to the understanding of how best to overcome the functional learning deficits of children with autism.