Evidence for Maintenance of Emotion Recognition Gains Using the Transporters Animated Series: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Friday, May 13, 2016: 3:04 PM
Room 308 (Baltimore Convention Center)
T. Gev, R. Rosenan and O. Golan, Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Background: Emotion and mental state recognition (ER) difficulties are a core characteristic of ASD. Previous attempts to teach ER to individuals with ASD have often resulted in poor generalization and maintenance of acquired skills. The Transporters (TT) is an animated series that uses faced mechanical vehicles and social stories to expose children with ASD to facial expressions and emotions. A user guide offers parents additional activities aimed to enhance generalization. Previous evaluations of TT have demonstrated positive effects on children's emotional vocabulary and ER, compared to treatment as usual (Golan et al., 2010), and to an animated control series (Young & Posselt, 2012). However, the maintenance of acquired ER skills and the unique effect of the series, vis-a-vis parental support (PS) were not examined.

Objectives: (1) To evaluate TT vs. an animated control series in a RCT with  preschoolers with high functioning ASD. (2) To examine the maintenance of acquired ER skills 3 months post intervention. (3) To examine the unique effects of TT and of PS on children’s gains.

Methods:  77 Participants with high functioning ASD, aged 4-7 were randomly assigned into four intervention groups using a 2x2 design (TT/control series X with/without PS). Participants’ emotional vocabulary and ER skills at 3 levels of generalization were tested, following Golan et al. (2010) before and after the intervention, with a follow-up 3 months after its completion. Each child in the intervention groups received an animation series (TT/Control), and watched it for 10 minutes per day for 8 weeks. Parents in the with PS conditions were asked to use activities from the parental guide on a daily basis, for at least 20 minutes per day. Parent and child fidelity were monitored on a weekly basis by the research team. A fifth group of 25 typically developing (TD) children, matched on mental age and gender was tested three times with no intervention.

Results: A Series (TT/control) by PS (with/without) by Generalization level (3 levels) by Time (pre/post/follow-up) MANOVA was conducted. The analysis yielded a significant time by series effect for the ER tasks, over and above level. Post-hoc analysis revealed the TT groups, that did not differ from the control series groups on ER pre-intervention, improved significantly post intervention, and maintained their gains at follow up. Furthermore, TT groups’ ER did not differ from that of TD controls post intervention and at follow-up. No effect was found for parental support. Only time effects were found for the vocabulary task. Verbal ability and autism severity were generally related to ER, but not to intervention gains. No age effects were found, supporting the designated age range for the series.

Conclusions: The results support The Transporters series as a an effective ER intervention for young children with ASD, with maintenance of acquired skills at 3 month follow-up. Improvement following series’ use narrowed down users’ developmental gap on ER skills. The lack of a PS effect on ER, suggests PS may have better effects on more generalized socio-emotional skills.