How audio training can impact the spatial cognition of visually impaired children

By Kavindra Sahabir ‘21

visual-impairment.png
Figure 1. Visual impairment is one of the more common sensory impairments, and one that people who have it can be trained to minimize.

One of the biggest challenges for helping anyone with a sensory impairment is training the brain in making up for the missing sense. In the case of people born with a sensory impairment, it is easier to undergo such training successfully at earlier ages due to the plasticity of the brain, which allows for changes to take effect quicker. A study conducted by Dr. Cappagli and team tested a type of rehabilitation and training that aimed to show improvement in spatial cognition in a quicker way than the way current training allows for.

In this study, 22 children aged 6-17 were put into a 12-week intensive training program that made use of a device called the ABBI (Audio Bracelet for Blind Interaction). Another 22 children were put into a similar 12-week program using the current training. The group in the ABBI training program used exercises that involved recognizing and locating sounds, ranging from simple tones that moved in straight paths to complex noises that moved in random paths. Children that underwent current training were given activities that aimed to substitute the missing sense through the use of devices that made use of either touch or audio rather than train them to recognize audio cues in a space. Once the twelve weeks were over, the two groups of children were tested by a battery of assessments which examined the ability to locate the horizontal and vertical placements of sounds as well as the distances from them.

The results of this experiment showed significant improvements in the ABBI group in most of the tests, while the group that underwent classical training showed no statistically significant improvements. The only tests that showed no improvement was the test of audio depth, which the researchers attributed to the way our brain’s audio recognition works. The results of this experiment show that ABBI training is a more reliable way of preventing delays in the development of spatial cognition in visually impaired children than current training techniques.
References

  1. G. Cappigli, et. al., Audio motor training improves mobility and spatial cognition in visually impaired children. Scientific Reports, (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39981-x  
  2. Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pictograms-nps-accessibility-low_vision_access.svg
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