Captions and audio description benefit people on the autism spectrum

Friday, 16 September 2011 12:34pm

UK researcher Judith Garman has published an article that provides insight into the positive impacts of captions and audio description on people in the autism spectrum. By combining the visuals and audio, they can help create a complete picture for people who have autism, Aspergers, monotropism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.

Garman’s article draws insights from her user testing of BBC television services in 2010, involving participants on the autism spectrum, and later television platform testing in 2011.

As audio description provides extra information via an audio track that includes descriptions of people’s temperaments, it was found to assist people on this spectrum, who generally struggle to understand human emotions. It also helped reinforce information, such as people’s names, something that people with autism may struggle with.

Similarly with captions, the second input stream of information improved understanding for people on the autism spectrum that may have audio processing difficulties involving, not knowing what information is important to understanding and what’s not.  Here captions provide a “backup” when information is lost in processing.

Outcomes including improved spelling and comprehension for people with ADHD and Dyslexia were also found in further testing in 2011.

These findings suggest that a broader application of captions and audio description can be beneficial to people beyond those who are sensory impaired, contributing not only to understanding and engagement with audiovisual materials but also to independence for people who otherwise rely on others to fill in the gaps.

Via our CAP THAT! campaign, we encourage teachers to turn on captions in the classroom to benefit all students. Research shows that captions particularly benefit students who are Deaf, hearing impaired, speak English as a second language  and those with learning disabilities. 


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