BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Joe appears on the computer screen, he’s shaking his head, and appears difficult. Another click reveals a man in a yellow shirt showing his excitement.
While it may look easy to pick out their emotions, doctors at Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College say that children on the autism spectrum find it tough to recognize what these folks are expressing.
“They have a variety of impairments or deficit areas and one of those involves the ability to read emotions, facial expressions, and voices,” said IAR co-director Dr. Christopher Lopata.
In a study conducted by the institute over an 18-month period, kids ages 7-12 with high functioning autism spectrum disorder worked with an emotion-recognition software called Mind Reading, engaged in practice with a clinician, and repeatedly reinforced what they learned. One group received treatment, the other was a control. Each treatment lasted 12 weeks.
“Lessons teach them what the emotion is, give definitions, give examples of people using or displaying those emotions,” said fellow co-director Dr. Marcus Thomeer. “One of the clinicians working with the kid would stop the child and would make a face and ask a child, ‘what emotion is my face showing? Show me a happy face, a sad, face, a confused face,’ and the child would have to display that emotion.”
Lopata told us kids who received treatment out-tested the control group and showed a reduction in these social deficits and symptoms.
Taryn Wilde said she’s noticed a world of difference watching her 11-year-old son Ian participate in the study.
“Where he was never really interested in playing with other children, now he asks me to arrange times for me to go to friend’s houses, friends invite him over,” Wilde gushed.
Moving forward, doctors Thomeer and Lopata said they’ll look into improving broader social skills and also study the implementation of the program outside of the classroom.
While their research continues, Wilde said she couldn’t be happier to see Ian succeed.
“He has the whole world in the palm of his hands. The future is so bright for him. We’re so excited,” said Wilde.