Aims: To test if The Transporters animation leads to improvement in emotion recognition in autistic preschoolers.
Background: The Transporters aims to help autistic children to look at the human face and to learn about emotions. The series of 15 five-minute episodes features the adventures of 8 animated mechanical vehicles with human faces, each focusing on a different human emotion. Autistic children tend to avoid looking at human faces and find it hard to understand why facial features move in the way that they do. This inability to read emotions on the human face impairs their ability to communicate with other people. Autistic children are often fascinated by rotating wheels, spinning tops, rotating fans, and mechanical, lawful motion. They prefer predictable patterns. For this reason all the toy vehicles featured in the The Transporters run on tracks or on lines. The 15 key emotions portrayed in The Transporters aimed at 2 to 8-year-olds are: happy, sad, angry, afraid, excited, disgusted, surprised, tired, unfriendly, kind, sorry, proud, jealous, joking and ashamed. Each episode has an associated interactive quiz to help the child learn about the featured emotion.
Method: In our clinical trial, autistic children watched the DVD for 15 minutes a day for one month, and were compared on the emotion recognition before the trial, and after.
Results: We found that following a four-week period of watching the DVD, autistic children caught up with typically developing children of the same age in their performance on emotion recognition tasks.
Importance: This demonstrates that aspects of empathy are teachable, and are engaging when designed to be autism-friendly.
Relevance: For parents, teachers, clinicians and researchers.
Funding: The Department of Culture, Media and Sport; the Autism Research Trust.
- Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism to recognize complex emotions using interactive multimedia., Development and Psychopathology 18:591-617 (2006), O. Golan, S. Baron-Cohen, S. Wheelwright and J. J. Hill