Puppets Shown to Attract and Hold the Attention of Kids with Autism

August 16, 2021

Yale Study Suggests Using Puppets as a Social Therapy Tool

Difficulties with making eye contact and keeping attention with social partners is one of the early hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). New research from the Yale Child Study Center set out to address these common problems for young children on the spectrum. The center recently produced an innovative study which demonstrates that puppets can attract and hold the attention of children on the spectrum, a feat that is often difficult to achieve. Through a series of experiments, the Yale research team examined the visual attention patterns of young children with ASD and typically developing children.  Both cohorts watched a video depicting a lively interaction between Violet, a brightly colored puppet, and a human counterpart. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the children with ASD paid a great deal of attention to the puppet. In fact, the children on the spectrum focused on Violet’s face just as much as the neurotypical children. The team also discovered that both sets of children exhibited a strong preference for the talking puppet over the listening person. The researchers suggest that their experiments demonstrate that puppets have the potential to be a powerful tool in social therapy sessions for children with autism. Interestingly, the study found that the attentional benefit was similar for all children with ASD, regardless of their level of impairment. Cheryl Henson, daughter of puppeteer Jim Henson, contributed to this research. 

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