People on the autism spectrum (ASD) have deficits in mirror neurons. One study showing this link is seen here. fMRI imaging has revealed that when we watch an image of an activity, the same neurons fire as when we experience the same activity. Stimulating this response is key to empathy and learning and may reveal the key to understanding the deficits seen in people with ASD. Since there is a difference in this processing, if we are to teach visual literacy to students on the spectrum, we may need to approach things differently because their mental functioning is different. If neurotypicals can visually process for empathy and people on the spectrum struggle with this, additional or different support with video production or interpretation may be required.
When I think of my son, he does not like 3-D movies, IMAX movies or visuals that incorporate lots of movement of the camera. I wonder if this is related to his mirror neuron deficits. Neurotypical people process these images differently because they become one, as it were, with the film, whereas he processes it differently and ends up motion sick, something he does not experience with transportation.
Another key difference between ASD populations and neurotypicals is eye gaze. Neurotypical people look at the eyes of people whereas people on the spectrum tend to look at mouths or non-central movement. (See research here and here.) This also lends itself to implications in teaching visual literacy to students on the spectrum. They need to be directed to the central image and taught to look for clues in faces that reveal what the video director desires. If they are creating video, they may need extra guidance in what to focus on.
The Common Core includes interpreting and creating digital media. For example:
- RL.CCR. 7: integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words,
- RL 5.7: analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g. graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem), and
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2a Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.