An interactive computer software program called FaceSay™ has been shown to improve the ability of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to recognize faces, facial expressions and emotions, according to the results of a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). FaceSay™, created by Symbionica L.L.C., features interactive games that let children with ASD practice recognizing the facial expressions of an avatar, or software “puppet.” Specifically, the computer games teach the children where to look for facial cues such as an eye gaze or a facial expression.
The study found that the children with Asperger Syndrome who used the FaceSay™ program made significant improvements in their ability to read facial expressions. The children with autism made less improvement. Children in both the autism and Asperger groups, however, both improved their ability to recognize emotions.
Specifically, the children with autism who used FaceSay™ averaged a mean score of 14.8 on a facial recognition test. The control group averaged 12.8. The children with Asperger Syndrome scored much higher with an average score of 18.4 compared to 15.4 by the control group.
On an emotion recognition skills test, the children with autism who used FaceSay™ scored an average of 6.53. The control group’s average score was 5.2. The children with Asperger Syndrome had a mean test score of 8.7 compared with the control group score of 6.79. UAB doctoral student Maria Hopkins, Ph.D., and UAB associate professor of psychology Fred Biasini, Ph.D., conducted the study.
Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of developmental disorders such as autism, Asperger Syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders. Children with ASD often avoid eye contact with others, which prevents them from perceiving and understanding the emotions of others. Many have problems remembering faces.
Hopkins and Biasini tested 25 children with autism and 24 children with Asperger Syndrome. The children ranged in age from 6 to 15, with an average age of 10 years. The group consisted of 44 boys and five girls. The computer training sessions were held twice a week for at least six weeks for an average of 20 minutes each session. The software featured three interactive games.
Psychologists at UAB plan to conduct more studies to assess the longtime effects of the FaceSay™ intervention.
The study’s results were presented recently at a meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.