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Towards the Next Generation of Computer-Based Face Training in Autism Intervention

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. N. Sung1 and J. W. Tanaka2, (1)Educational Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, (2)Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
Background: Transfer of learning is critical to address in autism research. While investigation reveals foundations for improved interventions, study of transfer is usually challenging and most often muddling. This literature review introduces computer-based face training in autism as an intriguing transfer case study.

Of all the objects that humans encounter and recognize during the course of their lifetime, it is the human face that most readily captures our attention. Indeed, facial-processing skills are so natural and automatic that it is claimed the vast majority of people qualify as “face experts”. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less skilled in face-processing abilities (Gross, 2004; Klin et al., 2002; Osterling, Dawson, & Munson, 2002).

Over the past decade, software interventions have been developed to ameliorate such difficulties experienced by children with autism. Nevertheless, there remains a discrepancy across the literature to what extent learners improve from the small screen to the big world. While previous reviews have touched on the transfer challenge, no paper to date has organized the face training in autism literature around this central theme.

Objectives: To conduct a review of the literature that sheds light on confronting the existing transfer challenge in computer-based face training.

Methods: Peer-reviewed articles examining computer-based face training for individuals with ASD were found using the PsycINFO, MEDLINE, ERIC, Applied Science and Technology Index (H.W. Wilson), and Web of Sciencedatabases. Additional studies were located by examining reference lists from search-retrieved papers. Articles included in this review (a) were primary intervention papers; (b) focused on individuals with autism across the spectrum; and (c) utilized computer-based face training programs as the main instructional delivery. 

Results: Eleven studies were identified and examined based on inclusion criteria. Three levels of hierarchical transfer were described across the studies. Same face transfer indicated improvement over time in a specific set of face tasks following computerized training. Different face transfer recognized improvement in novel face tasks following software instruction. Finally, beyond face transfer encompassed improvement in broader social, emotional, communicative, and behavioral functioning in light of computer-based face intervention. Yet, inconsistencies in the findings continue to highlight an existing transfer challenge.  

Conclusions: Moving the field forward, this review argues that more comprehensive intervention with improved technology and augmented face-to-face instruction is required. The next generation of computerized face training must successfully transfer learners from the small screen to the big world. While a paucity of such comprehensive interventions exist, rationale to develop them are compelling and many. Along the way, continued exploration of transfer will prove inspirational that today’s learning will benefit tomorrow’s success.

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