Have you ever approached someone who is watching a video and then started talking to them? You might feel that they’re ignoring you because they’re hyper-focused on what they’re watching. Although you may have said their name over and over, they continue to look at the screen as if you weren’t even there. Interestingly, they might not be able to hear you at all — due to something called perceptual load theory.
Perceptual load theory researchers have found that our eyes and ears can only process so much. Most people notice sounds and sights that are relevant to what they are attending to first before processing anything that isn’t associated to what they are focusing on in the moment. In other words, even though you may be standing next to someone saying their name as they watch a video, their name may not be relevant to the video — so their brain doesn’t process your voice.
People with autism process sights and sounds very differently. Surprisingly, they are better than most people at detecting unexpected and expected sounds in their environments. Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science and a person with autism herself, has described people with autism as having “ears like microphones” that detect all the surrounding sounds in an environment — whether or not they are relevant to the task at hand.
Researchers Anna Remington and Jake Fairnie (2017) found that an increased capacity to detect and process a variety of sounds at once, however, can decrease attention to important social information such as speech. Remington and Fairnie added that to “…reduce the impact of unwanted distraction in autism that results from increased capacity, we need to reduce [irrelevant] background noise but also increase the level of perceptual load in a given task.” This is especially important when learning spoken language — an area in which many children with autism struggle.
Remington and Fairnie’s 2017 findings contradict an outdated, all-too-common idea that educational activities and materials should be simplified for children with autism. Actually, these kids simply need the right strategies which allow them to tap into their potential: they need tools that present sound and visual information which is relevant to the task at hand.
InnerVoice is exactly this type of tool: one that displays relevant sound and visual stimuli for learning speech, language, and social communication. InnerVoice’s 3D avatars capture the attention of children with autism and present facial expressions, speech movements, and spoken words all in one place — combining just the right amount of speech and language stimuli so that kids with autism can build upon their innate strengths as learner