Researchers at Marcus Autism Center, Emory University, and Yale University have discovered a new way to measure how engaged children with autism are with what they’re watching. The new method relies on measuring the precise timing of when people blink, and when they don’t.
More importantly, they can use this new method to learn how children with autism engage in the world around them.
The results are reported in the December 12, 2011, online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If you are like most people, you probably don’t notice when you blink. In fact, if you’re an average adult, you probably don’t notice that you spend nearly 45 minutes each day with your eyes closed – blinking.
The research reveals that people unconsciously inhibit blinking at precise moments. Why would people blink at some moments but not at others?
“When we blink, we lose visual information,” says Sarah Shultz, a graduate student in the Psychology Department at Yale University. “Our eyelids close. We’re not conscious of the timing of our blinks, but they still impact the visual information we take in.”
Shultz and her colleagues Ami Klin and Warren Jones at the Marcus Autism Center and Emory School of Medicine work with children with autism, studying how these children look at the world and how they learn from the things they pay attention to.
While measuring what 2-year-olds look at when watching videos of other children playing, Shultz made an interesting observation: she noticed that the children blinked less while the videos were playing than they did before or after the videos.
Wyman is co-author on two books about autism and provides frequent updates on working with children with autism.