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Children With Austism Need To Be Taught In Smaller Groups

July 2, 2009

 Since the 1970s, there has been much debate surrounding the fact that
individuals with autism have difficulty in understanding speech in
situations where there is background speech or noise.

Today, at the annual meeting of the International Multisensory Research
Forum (June 29th ““ July 2nd) being held at The City College of New York
(CCNY), neuroscientists announced conclusive evidence to verify this
fact.

Speaking at the conference, Dr. John J. Foxe, Professor of Neuroscience
at CCNY said: “Sensory integration dysfunction has long been speculated
to be a core component of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but there has
been precious little hard empirical evidence to support this notion. 
Viewing a speaker’s articulatory movements can greatly improve a
listener’s ability to understand spoken words, and this is especially
the case under noisy environmental conditions.”

“These results are the first of their kind to verify that children with
autism have substantial difficulties in these situations, and this has
major implications for how we go about teaching these children in the
classroom,” he continued.  “Children with autism may become distressed
in large classroom settings simply because they are unable to
understand basic speech if the environment is sufficiently noisy.

“We should start to pay attention to the need for smaller numbers in
the classroom and we need to carefully control the levels of background
noise that these kids are exposed to. Imagine how frustrating it must
be to sit in a classroom without being able to properly understand what
the teacher or your classmates are saying to you.

“Being able to detect speech in noise plays a vital role in how we
communicate with each other because our listening environments are
almost never quiet. Even the hum of air conditioners or fans that we
can easily ignore may adversely impact these children’s ability to
understand speech in the classroom.

“Our data show that the multisensory speech system develops relatively
slowly across the childhood years and that considerable tuning of this
system continues to occur even into early adolescence. Our data suggest
that children with Autism lag almost 5 years behind typically
developing children in this crucial multisensory ability.”

Professor Foxe concluded that further studies may result in advances in
the understanding of ASD and the communication abilities of individuals
with autism by identifying the neural mechanisms that are at the root
of these multisensory deficits. This will be an important step if
viable intervention and training strategies are to be developed.

The 10th International Multisensory Research Forum (IMRF) began Monday,
June 29, and continues until Thursday, July 2.  This four-day meeting
has brought together more than 400 scientists from around the world.

IMRF provides an invaluable platform for neuroscientists to stay
abreast of the latest advances in multisensory research. The conference
features presentations and talks by prominent researchers in the field
of multisensory research, from a host of different backgrounds ““
neurophysiology, anatomy, psychophysics, development and modeling ““ all
interested in how the senses combine and interact to drive perception
and behavior.

“This is one of the largest forums in the world whereby neuroscientists
have the opportunity to offer insights, exchange, debate and
collaborate on current research into multisensory integration, most of
which have numerous practical everyday applications, for example, the
clinical profession working in the area of autism,” said Dr. Sophie
Molholm, Associate Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
at CCNY and local organizer for the conference.

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