Examining the Effectiveness of a Mind Reading Emotion Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
D. Davidson1, E. Hilvert2, M. Giordano1 and I. Misiunaite3, (1)Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, (2)Loyola University, Chicago, IL, (3)Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: Emotion processing plays a pivotal role in the maturation of social interactions and communication in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Although interventions that target emotion processing have the capacity to improve these social deficits, only a handful of technology-based emotion interventions have been designed and implemented with children with ASD.

Objectives: The goal of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of the software: Mind Reading: The Interactive Guide to Emotions (Baron-Cohen, Golan, Wheelwright, & Hill, 2004) on improving accurate recognition of basic and self-conscious emotions from facial and contextual stimuli in children with ASD.

Methods: Eighteen children with ASD (Mage = 12;02) participated in a four-week technology-based emotion intervention using the Mind Reading software (Baron-Cohen et al., 2004), which aims at improving emotion recognition abilities and social behaviors. All children had an IQ > 75, and were mainstreamed in their school district (see Table 1 for additional demographics).

Before the intervention began, children completed two tasks to assess their emotional development. The first was a measure of facial emotion recognition where children viewed pictures of happy, sad, angry, and fearful faces presented at varying expression intensities (0%, 50%, 100%). In the second task, children were read short stories and asked to identify the character’s emotions from the situational context that elicited either a basic (i.e., happiness, sadness, fear) or self-conscious (i.e., pride, guilt, embarrassment) emotional reaction.

Two months after this initial assessment, all children participated in the Mind Reading intervention at their schools for three hours twice a week for four weeks. The Mind Reading software consists of three modules: the emotions library, learning center, and game zone. In the emotions library, children were exposed to over 400 basic and complex emotions through videos, recordings, and mini-stories. In the learning center, children completed lessons and quizzes on these emotions. In the game zone, children played games that tested their emotion recognition skills. Children spent the majority (~70%) of each session working in the emotions library and learning center, and at the end, they worked in the game zone. During each session, an intervention facilitator ensured students stayed on task. Children were then re-assessed two weeks later using the same battery of emotion tasks.

Results: After the intervention, children with ASD showed improvement in basic and self-conscious emotion processing skills. With regards to facial recognition, we found improvements in children’s ability to detect happy and fearful facial expressions, subtle facial expressions (at 50% expression intensity), and their ability to specifically recognize basic emotions on male faces. On the situational emotion task, we found that after the intervention, children were better able to identify subtle and intense expressions of self-conscious emotions, especially guilt, from situational contexts (see Table 2).

Conclusions: These findings provide support for the efficacy of the Mind Reading program. Additional assessment of this intervention across various settings and with different emotion outcome measures will be essential to further establish its utility.