Yale study finds puppets induce identical visual attention patterns in autistic children as healthy counterparts

In the journal Autism Research, a group of experts at the Yale Child Study Center initiated a collaboration with puppeteer Jim Henson to assess how children with autism spectrum disorder respond socially to talking puppets.

The study showed that children with autism displayed identical visual attention patterns as typically developing children when faced with a talking puppet.

As part of the study, the young participants were placed in a dark soundproof environment where they were shown a nearly 1 and a half minute video of a conversation between a talking puppet and a woman. Eye-tracking software was initiated to monitor each participant’s visual attention patterns.

In the study, the young participants generally did not focus on the woman’s face but rather placed their visual attention on the puppet, very similar to that of children without a developmental disorder.

The findings consider puppets as a potential approach to improving social cues among children with autism.

“Unlike humans, expressive and verbal puppets attracted the attention of children with ASD at levels comparable to that of TD controls,” the journal report states.

“Considering that puppets can engage in reciprocal interactions and deliver simplified, salient social-communicative cues, they may facilitate therapeutic efforts in children with ASD.”

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