International Meeting for Autism Research: FaceStation: Computer Games That Train Face Perception and Reward Circuitries In Autism

FaceStation: Computer Games That Train Face Perception and Reward Circuitries In Autism

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
10:00 AM
G. Kohls1, S. Faja2, E. N. Madva1, S. J. Cayless1, S. Zayat1, W. C. Longmire1, J. S. Miller1 and R. T. Schultz1, (1)Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (2)University of Washington, Seattle
Background: Perceiving facial information is challenging for many children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Moreover, functional brain imaging studies have shown that activation in face processing and reward circuitries differ between individuals with and without ASD when dealing with faces. However, recognizing and understanding facial information are essential skills for competent social functioning, and can be enhanced for individuals with ASD by using computer-based interventions. The Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has developed a new set of computer games, called FaceStation, designed as a training tool to enhance face perception abilities among children with ASD. This novel treatment is modeled after an existing set of similar games – Let’s Face It!  (LFI) (Tanaka et al., 2010), and while FaceStation is a stand-alone application, it can be used in combination with LFI to increase “treatment dosage.” Computer games are an especially promising intervention tool, because they are naturally engaging and allow the child to learn the critical social perceptual skills in the context of an activity that is intrinsically rewarding and self motivating.

Objectives: FaceStation has been developed as a part of a study aimed at testing the effectiveness of computerized gaming interventions for remediating social perceptual deficits in ASD.  It is composed of a suite of 7 games, each designed to foster perceptual skill development in a manner that is intrinsic to the game play. We will demonstrate this new suite of games and discuss the rationale for each game, and how the combination of games forms an effective treatment vehicle.

Methods: Efficacy of FaceStation is being assessed in an ongoing randomized control study of 40 children with ASD using pre- and post intervention behavioral measures of perceptual skills and fMRI measurement of key brain regions involved in social perception and reward. Forty 8-13 year olds with ASD with impaired face perception skills are being randomized to two groups: active intervention or waitlist control. Twenty non-ASD typically developing controls (TDC) are being studied at baseline for normative comparison. The treatment group receives software to play FaceStation on a personal computer at their home or school. Both ASD groups are assessed before and after the game play (or waiting) period. The main outcome measures are performance on a face recognition skills battery and fMRI activation in face and reward brain circuitries.

Results: Data collection is ongoing. In this presentation, the developers of FaceStation will explain their game design process, from concept to completion. Preliminary data from children with and without ASD who played the games will be discussed. The presentation will include a live demo of selected games. 

Conclusions: Our project is intended to increase the neurobiological understanding of the predictors of game playing (such as neural reward responsivity) and the outcomes of game playing (brain plasticity) to enrich our knowledge of how, why, and when rehabilitation games are most effective, particularly in children with developmental delays such as ASD.

| More