Free attention training programme for children with autism launched

A new, free to access, attention training programme to help young autistic people has been launched by researchers.

Boy stares at a laptop screen

The programme, called CPAT (Computerised Progressive Attentional Training), is designed for use by teachers and other educational professionals who work with autistic children. It was designed to develop basic attention skills among school-aged children.

Researchers from the University’s Centre for Human Brain Health, The Centre for Developmental Sciences and the Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER) together with colleagues from Tel Aviv University will be launching the programme this Friday (15 July 2022) at a conference held by nasen, a charity that supports and champions those working with, and for, children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities, and learning differences.

Using CPAT, children can take part in training sessions that could take place as part of the school routine. Sessions include training games targeting different types of attention, and at progressively more difficult levels.

Dr Carmel Mevorach, one of the programme’s developers, said: “The ways in which autistic children pay attention is fundamental to how they learn, but also how they interact and socialise. Given the high prevalence and considering neurodiversity more broadly, it’s highly likely that most teachers will engage with autistic students in their classroom at some point in their career.”

Technology works really well for many autistic children because it offers an organised and structured environment which is conducive to learning.

Dr Lila Kossyvaki, School of Education

Dr Lila Kossyvaki, CPAT researcher, said: “Technology works really well for many autistic children because it offers an organised and structured environment which is conducive to learning. Tasks can also be broken down into smaller steps, and there is no expectation to communicate or interact socially. CPAT takes advantage of all these aspects. “The programme we developed takes advantage of all these aspects.

Research studies using CPAT in autism showed children were able to increase the number of words they could identify and copy by around 40 per cent. In maths, they were able to improve their scores by more than 50 per cent. All the improvements were maintained when the children were retested after three months.

The launch of the new CPAT version is accompanied by a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), to educate teachers and other educational professionals about the impact autism has on attention, how attention is intrinsically linked to learning, and how CPAT can be used to help develop attention. This is also free to access and can be completed in around 12 hours, over a four-week period.

The CPAT course and MOOC, aligns with the theme of this year’s nasen conference, which focuses on ‘Inclusion by Design’, giving SEND and education professionals, including SENCOs, teachers and senior leaders as well as carers, families and experts by experience, the opportunity to share best practice in the field.

CPAT was developed as part of the Teacher Training and Attention in Autism project, funded by the EU’s Erasmus + Programme. The project includes researchers, practitioners and user groups across four participating countries: UK, Spain, Greece and Israel to further research and promote the school-based provisions of attention in autism.

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