No, I’m not suggesting autistic people are automatically brilliant mathematicians (says the person who can calculate basic operations in my head at breakneck speed, often visualizing a typeface to represent my equation…usually the eggcrate font seen on many game shows of the past, including The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune. I might need a new hobby :-p). A study reported by NBC San Diego suggests toddlers who spend at least 69% of their observation time gazing at geometric images, such as those found on computer screen savers, are highly likely to fall in the autism spectrum.
Why is 69% a big deal? Because most other children would use that time engaging in interactive games, such as peek-a-boo. The University of California-San Diego, who published the study, responded to their findings by saying parents should simply speak to their pediatrician if their child is choosing to spend time gazing at moving geometric images versus engaging in more social activities.
Before anyone comes up with the idea of setting up a screen saver with a game of peek-a-boo, remember that the subject of fascination is geometric images, and that doesn’t account for other issues with a screen-to-screen interaction versus face-to-face. While a lack of interest in social activities is no secret to the autism community, the craving for geometric shapes intrigues me, yet makes sense when applied to my own experiences. I was a fan of game shows as a kid because of their highly structured set-up, but there was an abundance of shapes to be found. The title object in Wheel of Fortune is a giant circle, Jeopardy! is filled with quadrilaterals that pop up on the screen, and both were things I could easily visualize as a kid (along with Jeopardy’s enormous flashing logo used through the mid ’90s, image below).
Coincidentally, both shows require a good amount of math to keep track, although none of it is related to its geometry embedded within the set.
The article is similar in nature to my last post about the study exploring infant gazes and autism. Combine the two stories and you’ll quickly notice a theme involving a lack of gazing at people. The fascinations that replace them may change as children get older, but both studies present possible clues or signs to answer the question about your child on the spectrum. Curiosities lead me to ponder if studies are in the works involving adolescents and what they enjoy observing. While there’s no linear link between autism and activities, I can’t recall too many journalists investigating what young autistic people notice in place of typical interests.
I don’t see a swarm of attention on what autistic people gaze at in the future, but I see these articles and studies possibly giving us more signs and reasons to be socially aware, regardless of who is or isn’t on the autism spectrum. My psychologist mentioned how autism can teach us a lot about typical human development in my first autism documentary. We may be teaching ourselves now.