New learning method could help autistic people improve visual perception abilities – Neuroscience News

Summary: The newly proposed learning method for those on the autism spectrum speeds up the learning process and can help improve visual perception.

source: Tel Aviv University

A new study from Tel Aviv University proposes a new educational method for people with autism that may speed up the learning process and even significantly improve abilities in terms of visual perception.

According to the researchers, improving the cognitive ability of people with autism is often a challenge, which usually requires long and tedious training along with additional learning challenges that characterize autism, such as the ability to generalize learning in new situations.

The new method proposed by the researchers is based on the use of “memory flashes”, which consist of exposing a person for just a few seconds to an already learned task.

Compared to standard teaching practice that enhances the length and frequency of new skills, the new method has been shown to improve both visual perception abilities and generalization of learning—that is, excel at a similar task in conditions they had not previously learned—for people with autism.

The study was conducted by doctoral student Shira Klorfeld Ausländer and Professor Nitzan Sensor from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol College of Neurosciences at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Professor Ilan Denstein and his team from Ben-Gurion University.

The study was published in the journal current biology.

Professor Sensor explains that “in my lab we focus on studying learning in humans, and today we already know that a large part of the learning does not take place in formal training settings but then, in the processes of assimilation and memory enhancement that occur ‘offline’; for example When our brain is asleep.

However, standard teaching methods still call for an approach in which longer training equals better learning: If you want to play the piano, you should practice playing the piano for many hours each day until playing becomes second nature.

“We have identified an alternative learning mechanism that uses ‘memory flashes’ – a brief presentation of a task that has already been learned – in order to internalize and generalize the skills developed.”

In the study, the research team examined about 30 high-functioning adults with autism who were asked to learn a visual task (for example, determining the direction of lines that appear for a few milliseconds on a screen).

However, instead of repeating the task for a long time each day, the examinees in the main experimental group learned the task in depth on the first day, and on the following days were exposed to the visual stimulus for only a few seconds.

At the end of the process, although the study participants studied the task for a short period of time, their performance improved significantly, by about 20-25%, similar to multi-repetition learning and similar to the accomplishments of people without autism.

Furthermore, even when presenting a task under new, non-learned conditions (eg, when the learned stimulus is in a new location), the flash-memory-learned examinees performed better than those in the control group; That is, they know how to generalize the skills acquired in the first task.

The participants’ success in generalizing the learning to other situations is very important, as these are skills that are difficult for people with autism to perform.

“We have already demonstrated in previous studies that learning assimilation processes can be improved with flashes of memory,” says Professor Sensor.

The new method proposed by the researchers is based on the use of “memory flashes”, which consist of exposing a person for just a few seconds to an already learned task. The image is in the public domain

“We have shown that it does not take long in practice to absorb the task – it is enough to flash it for a few seconds to stimulate the relevant brain network, and the brain will then assimilate the material on its own. In this case we tested people with autism.

People with autism often have difficulty learning and generalizing repetitive learning, that is, using tools that have also been learned in new tasks. With short flashes of visual stimulation in the acquired task, we were able to produce learning similar to repetitive learning in terms of its efficacy; Meaning, we have greatly shortened the learning time.

“The added value is the ability to generalize: the examinees performed a task under new conditions, as if they had fully learned it.”

According to Professor Sensor, the new method may have significant potential implications in a wide range of areas. “The new study could pave the way for more feasible approaches to learning for people with autism, in a variety of tasks. In addition, the method may help in rehabilitation after neurological injuries, that is, in training the brain to regenerate damaged connections, through shorter training.”

About this ASD news search

author: press office
source: Tel Aviv University
Contact: Press Office – Tel Aviv University
picture: The image is in the public domain

original search: open access.
“A distinct pathway for effective learning and generalization in autism” by Shira Klorfeld-Oslender et al. current biology

see also

This shows the neurons

Summary

A distinct path to effective learning and generalization in autism

Highlights

  • Brief memory reactivations lead to improvements in ASD visual skill performance
  • Learning is efficiently generalized to an untrained visual site
  • Evidence for a distinct pathway to effective visual learning and generalization in ASD

Summary

Learning visual skills is the process of improving responses to surrounding visual stimuli.

For individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), effective skills learning may be especially valuable because of potential difficulties with sensory processing and challenges in flexibly adapting to changing environments.

Standard skill-learning protocols require extensive practice with multiple stimulus repetitions, which may be difficult for individuals with autism and create abnormally specific learning with a poor ability to generalize.

Motivated by the findings that short memory reactivations can facilitate skill learning, we hypothesized that learning reactivation with fewer stimulated repetitions would enable effective learning in individuals with autism, similar to their learning using standard intensive practice protocols used in previous studies.

We also hypothesized that in contrast to experience-dependent plasticity that often leads to specificity, reactivation-induced learning would enable generalization patterns in ASD. To test our hypotheses, high-functioning adults with autism underwent a short reactivation of the encoded visual learning task, consisting of only 5 trials each instead of hundreds.

Significantly, individuals with autism significantly improved their ability to visually distinguish on the task, indicative of successful learning. Furthermore, individuals with autism spectrum disorder generalized learning in an untrained visual location, suggesting a unique utility of learning reactivation mechanisms for ASD individuals.

Finally, an additional trial showed that without memory reactivation, subjects with autism spectrum disorder did not show effective learning and generalization patterns.

Taken together, the results provide proof-of-concept evidence that supports a distinct pathway for effective and generalizing visual learning in ASD, which may be useful for learning skills in other sensory and motor domains.

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