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Computer-Based Face Training in Autism: A Comparison of Two Programs

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. N. Sung1 and V. Smith2, (1)Educational Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, (2)Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Background: Facial processing is integral to developing interpersonal relationships and successful functioning within a social group (Shultz, 2005). Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, experience profound difficulties in both facial recognition and expression understanding. Over the past decade, computer-based training in autism has attempted to improve face skills and social cognition. Informed by Theory of Mind, The Transporters (Golan et al., 2010) is an animated series designed to enhance emotion comprehension. Informed by Weak Central Coherence theory, Let’s Face It!  (Tanaka et al., 2010) includes seven interactive games designed to improve recognition of faces and facial expressions.

Objectives: To test these explanatory models by directly comparing the effects of two computer-based face processing interventions for children with ASD: The Transporters (Golan et al., 2010) and Let’s Face It!(Tanaka et al., 2010).  

Methods: Children aged 4 to 8 years (N = 21) were randomized to one of three conditions: The Transporters, Let’s Face It! and a no treatment control.Before-and-after 20 hours of intervention, children were assessed in ability to: (a) comprehend facial expressions by way of non-verbal intelligence, (b) interpret facial expressions by mediating through social context, (c) label emotions in faces, (d) recognize emotion constancy and (e) recognize featural and holistic configuration of faces. 

Results: Compared to children randomized to a no treatment control group (n = 7), children receiving The Transporters training (n = 8) or Let’s Face It! program (n = 6) experienced no greater significant improvement. Verbal ability and age of participants were linked to performance on the facial understanding measures.  

Conclusions: While findings in this exploratory study are limited due to small sample size, insignificant intervention effects suggest limitations in the social validity of The Transporters and Let’s Face It! interventions. Anecdotally, parents of children receiving The Transporters and Let’s Face It! interventions were overall very pleased with the experience. Almost all parents reported their children to have improved in face viewing behaviour and understanding.

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