Audiovisual Synchrony

by | Jan 4, 2023 | Blog

People on the autism spectrum live in a synchronized world.

When Ami Klin, Ph.D. was the director of Yale’s Child Study Center Autism Program, he and Warren Jones, a CSC neuroscientist, pioneered the use of eye-tracking technology in autism research. They developed an apparatus that allowed them to surreptitiously track eye movements in infants and toddlers.

They discovered that children and adults with autism see the world differently than typically developing subjects, often ignoring important sources of information that could help them build bridges to the social world. Their research demonstrated that infants and toddlers with autism are drawn to patterns, to motion that is synchronized with sound. This may be why young children with autism look at peoples’ mouths, instead of the eyes and faces of their caregivers like neurotypical children.

Using point-light animations (in which joints and other important body parts are represented by single dots) of people playing children’s games like peek- a-boo, researchers compared the visual responses of neurotypical toddlers to those with ASD. When two versions of these animations (one upright and the other upside children look at the properly presented animations, while children with ASD do not.

When the visual images were paired with sound in a synchronous beat, they found that children with ASD showed a strong preference for the conventional, upright version of that animation, in some cases showing an improvement from 23% to 92% correct.

This occurred even when most of the sound/motion correlations were very subtle, almost below the threshold of hearing, showing a strong connection between ASD and a heightened sensitivity to synchronized sounds and images.

Neurotypical children also showed a significant increased preference for the correct version.

Ami Klin described this preference for audiovisual synchrony (AVS), which might be used to redirect attention to socially relevant stimuli.

CalmConnect uses visual patterns and movements paired with rhythmic sound and music in a synchronous beat. All of these combine to draw each child in as they participate in the patterns themselves, becoming part of a larger social group, attending to socially relevant stimuli.

Synchronized Movement

Positive, safe social connections develop through shared synchronicity that comes from facial expressions, eye contact, attunement, activating mirror neurons, and moving rhythmically with others. When synchrony is surreptitiously produced in experimental situations it breeds feelings of ‘liking’ another person and oneself, cooperation, and compassion, as well as success in collaborative action.

Studies show that more synchronized movement was associated with better relationship quality and better interactional outcomes. The quality of a relationship is thus embodied by the synchronized movement patterns emerging between partners (Ramseyer, 2013). Furthermore, synchronized gestures also reflect and trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone essential for bonding and secure, safe attachments (Uvnas-Moberg, 2003).

V.S. Ramachandran is the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute. In his book, “The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human,” he writes:

“One final option for reviving dormant mirror neurons in autism might be to take advantage of the great delight that all humans take in dancing to a rhythm. Although such dance therapy using rhythmic music has been tried with autistic children, no attempt has been made to directly tap into the known properties of the mirror-neuron system. One way to do this might be, for example, to have several dancers moving simultaneously to rhythm and having the child mime the same dance in synchrony.”

Dr. Ramachandran might be describing CalmConnect: A compelling sensorimotor program, providing audiovisual synchrony in a delightfully engaging way.

We received an email from the lead occupational therapist at a clinic specializing in sensory processing disorders.

“We have been seeing an 8-year-old child with severe autism in clinic for several years. His speech is scripted with significant self-stimming. In a 45-minute session he might have 4 or 5 ‘moments’ of attention. I started using CalmConnect at the start of his therapy sessions. At the 6th session he walked in and started to talk without any scripting. He stopped self-stimming and paid attention through the entire session. We have just started to use CalmConnect for all of our clients! Thank you!!!”