In 1972, Julia Child’s legendary cooking show, “The French Chef,” was the first show ever to air with captions. Since then, this technology has made content more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers around the world. While the benefits of closed captions for these individuals is commonly understood, the positive impact on people with cognitive or behavioral disorders isn’t discussed as frequently.

What Disorders Benefit from Closed Captions?

1. Autism

It’s estimated that 3.5 million Americans are on the autism spectrum. It’s the fastest-growing developmental disability, increasing by 119% between 2000 and 2010. People on the autism spectrum often have challenges understanding human emotions and engaging with others. This especially manifests when these individuals must follow complex conversations, or decode speech when there’s a lot of background noise. For this reason, some autistic individuals may have a difficult time watching videos or television with the sound on. Many claim that by muting the content and turning on closed captions have empowered them to truly enjoy videos and television for the first time.

2. Auditory Neuropathy

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder, or ANSD, is a problem that can occur at any age, but is most frequently diagnosed in newborns. It’s not known what exactly causes this disorder, but experts believe it is due to a problem with the auditory nerve that facilitates transmission of sound from the inner ear to the brain. We now know this disorder accounts for 10-15% of hearing loss in newborns.

Treatments for ANSD include speech therapy and the use of hearing aids and other devices. However, many adults who suffered from this disorder in childhood may still have problems discerning speech from background noise, even if their hearing is otherwise adequate. For this reason, they may prefer or rely on closed captions for watching videos.

3. ADHD

You’ve undoubtedly heard of Attention Deficit Hyperactivtiy Disorder (ADHD), but did you know there are three types? Inattentive ADHD means a person shows enough symptoms of inattention (or easy distractibility) to warrant a diagnosis, but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive. It’s also possible for someone with ADHD to be hyperactive and impulsive but not inattentive. Combined ADHD is when a person has symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Individuals with all these manifestations often benefit from watching videos with closed captions, especially television or movies that require longer focus on a narrative or lesson. However, there are some challenges as studies have shown that ADHD viewers may find that dividing their focus between the video and captions is difficult. The study did show that they end up retaining more information though.

4. Dyslexia

One out of every eight people suffers from dyslexia. Since it’s a disorder specifically related to reading and interpreting letters, it may seem counterintuitive to think that closed captions would help those with dyslexia. However, studies have shown that for students, note-taking during a video or movie is made easier when closed captions are present because it helps them be more confident that they’re spelling and word order is correct. In fact, closed captioned videos may be a better tool for dyslexic students than textbooks since they can hear and see the information simultaneously.

5. Down syndrome

Down syndrome is the most common genetic disorder in America. This condition is a result of a child being born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome. Some people with Down syndrome have extra chromosomes in every one of their cells, while others may not. In all cases, the presence of the extra chromosome leads to common challenges in cognitive development and learning spoken language.

Studies have shown that children with Down syndrome have poor auditory short-term memory, meaning they don’t always remember what they just heard. However, they are often excellent readers. Learning language, especially fine points like grammar, prefixes, and suffixes, can be made a lot easier for them with the presence of a visual element like closed captions while they are watching television and videos.

The positive benefits of closed captions are plentiful. They help the deaf and hard of hearing, those with cognitive and learning behaviors, people that speak English as a second language, and have even been found to improve literacy rates. They also benefit people that just happen to be watching content on mute. 

What benefits have you seen from closed captioning your videos?

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