Accessible media and the autism spectrum

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014 10:36am

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. While many may be familiar with issues facing people with autism spectrum disorders, few are aware of the difference accessible media can make. 

Judith Garman, a researcher in the UK has done extensive work in this area. “Captions and audio description are a metaphorical ramp and provide a different kind of value to people on the autistic spectrum,” wrote Garman in 2011.

For captioning, the key benefit is reinforcement of auditory information. “People on the autistic spectrum may struggle with audio processing, that is filtering out different sounds and distinguishing between what’s relevant and what is not relevant. If there is an audio overload with lots of different sounds because of the audio processing issues some people on the autistic spectrum have, all or most of the audio could be rendered totally meaningless and captions provide a backup for when this occurs,” said Garman.

Audio description, which was developed to communicate the visual elements of a video or performance to those who are blind, is demonstrated to help children with autism.  Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties recognising emotional cues, such as facial expressions and gestures. The audio description track, providing information such as “James turns the car around angrily”, can help take out the guess work.

In addition to captioning and audio description, many cinemas and theatres provide autism friendly performances. At the Sydney Opera House, such performances “are provided in a supportive and non-judgemental environment with slight modifications to sound and lighting, downloadable pre-visit social story, support aids (including fidget toys, weighted lap pads, textured mats) an open door policy and quiet areas set up in the foyer.” This was established in consultation with educators of children on the autism spectrum.

Information about incorporating accessible media in the classroom is available in our Education section. For further information for children and adults with austism spectrum disorders visit Autism Spectrum Australia.

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