Attention training in children with autism spectrum disorder improves academic performance: A double-blind pilot application of the computerized progressive attentional training program

Mayra Muller Spaniol, Carmel Mevorach, Lilach Shalev, Maria Cristina T.V. Teixeira, Rosane Lowenthal, Cristiane Silvestre de Paula

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atypical attention has been reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with studies pointing to an increase in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder-like symptomatology. Individuals with ASD may also present academic difficulties and it is possible that they face a double-barrier for academic attainment from both core ASD symptomatology and from attention atypicalities, which are directly linked to academic performance. This raises the possibility that academic difficulties in ASD may benefit from cognitive training targeting attention. To test this possibility, we used the computerized progressive attentional training (CPAT) intervention in a double-blind, active control with follow-up intervention study in Brazil. The CPAT is a computerized attention training program that was recently piloted with schoolchildren with ASD in the UK. Twenty-six participants (8–14 years) with ASD in the São Paulo's ASD Reference Unit were assigned to either the CPAT (n = 14) or active control group (n = 12), which were matched at baseline. Two 45-min intervention sessions per week were conducted over a 2-month period. School performance, attention, fluid intelligence, and behavior were assessed before, immediately after and 3 months following the intervention. Significant group by time interactions show improvements in math, reading, writing and attention that were maintained at follow-up for the CPAT (but not the active control) group, while parents of children from both groups tended to report behavioral improvements. We conclude that attention training has the potential to reduce obstacles for academic attainment in ASD. Combined with the previous pilot study, the current results point to the generality of the approach, which leads to similar outcomes in different cultural and social contexts. Lay Abstract: Attention difficulties tend to occur in ASD and are linked to academic performance. In this study, we demonstrate that school performance in math, reading and writing in children with ASD can improve following an intervention that trains basic attention skills (the CPAT intervention). The improvements we report are stable and were maintained 3-months following the intervention. This study, which was conducted in a public-health setting in Brazil, extends previous research in schools in the UK pointing to the cross-cultural and cross-settings efficacy of the intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1769-1776
Number of pages8
JournalAutism Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • attention
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • cognitive training
  • intervention
  • school performance


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