Article

Avatar Assistant: Improving Social Skills in Students with an ASD Through a Computer-Based Intervention

Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1300 University Blvd., CH 328, Birmingham, AL 35924-1170, USA.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.06). 02/2011; 41(11):1543-55. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-011-1179-z
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT This study assessed the efficacy of FaceSay, a computer-based social skills training program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This randomized controlled study (N = 49) indicates that providing children with low-functioning autism (LFA) and high functioning autism (HFA) opportunities to practice attending to eye gaze, discriminating facial expressions and recognizing faces and emotions in FaceSay's structured environment with interactive, realistic avatar assistants improved their social skills abilities. The children with LFA demonstrated improvements in two areas of the intervention: emotion recognition and social interactions. The children with HFA demonstrated improvements in all three areas: facial recognition, emotion recognition, and social interactions. These findings, particularly the measured improvements to social interactions in a natural environment, are encouraging.

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    • "For example , Kelemen et al. (2014) found that by using picture books as a scaffold, 5–8 year old TD children were able to learn very difficult concepts pertaining to within-species adaptation by natural selection. Similarly, avatars and animated characters have been successfully used in social skills interventions for children with HFASD to improve emotional understanding (Beaumont and Sofronoff 2008; Hopkins et al. 2011) and social engagement (Radley et al. 2014). It may be that individuals with ASD, having a bias towards visual rather than verbal information (Kunda and Goel 2011), are especially in need of, and responsive to, information provided visually. "
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    ABSTRACT: The present study examines the efficacy of a social skills and Theory of Mind (S.S.ToM) intervention for children with high-functioning ASD. Children were taught to identify and consider their peer's mental states, e.g., knowledge, emotions, desires, beliefs, intentions, likes and dislikes, while learning friendship-making skills and strategies, through the use of visual scaffolds in story format. Compared to two control groups, S.S.ToM participants demonstrated significantly greater gains on measures of Theory of Mind and social responsiveness. At a 3-month follow-up assessment, improvements appeared to have been maintained and continued gains were observed. These results provide support for the utility of a visually supported Theory of Mind and social skills intervention that may be delivered in community settings.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 05/2015; DOI:10.1007/s10803-015-2459-9 · 3.06 Impact Factor
    • "For example , Kelemen et al. (2014) found that by using picture books as a scaffold, 5–8 year old TD children were able to learn very difficult concepts pertaining to within-species adaptation by natural selection. Similarly, avatars and animated characters have been successfully used in social skills interventions for children with HFASD to improve emotional understanding (Beaumont and Sofronoff 2008; Hopkins et al. 2011) and social engagement (Radley et al. 2014). It may be that individuals with ASD, having a bias towards visual rather than verbal information (Kunda and Goel 2011), are especially in need of, and responsive to, information provided visually. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The present study examines the efficacy of a social skills and Theory of Mind (S.S.ToM) intervention for children with high-functioning ASD. Children were taught to identify and consider their peer’s mental states, e.g., knowledge, emotions, desires, beliefs, intentions, likes and dislikes, while learning friendship-making skills and strategies, through the use of visual scaffolds in story format. Compared to two control groups, S.S.ToM participants demonstrated significantly greater gains on measures of Theory of Mind and social responsiveness. At a 3-month follow-up assessment, improvements appeared to have been maintained and continued gains were observed. These results provide support for the utility of a visually supported Theory of Mind and social skills intervention that may be delivered in community settings.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 01/2015;
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    • "Moreover, this sample had IQ scores in the normal range, and thus, the caricatured angry faces may have presented little challenge. Additionally, although speculative, many face-training interventions emphasize canonical emotional expressions such as angry, fear, sad and happy, but may not include training on neutral faces (Silver and Oakes, 2001; Solomon et al., 2004; Golan et al., 2010; Lopata et al. 2010; Hopkins et al., 2011; Tanaka et al., 2012). Therefore, individuals with ASD may have a disproportionate amount of experience identifying angry faces relative to neutral. "
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    ABSTRACT: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are often associated with impairments in judgment of facial expressions. This impairment is often accompanied by diminished eye contact and atypical amygdala responses to face stimuli. The current study used a within-subjects design to examine the effects of natural viewing and an experimental eye-gaze manipulation on amygdala responses to faces. Individuals with ASD showed less gaze toward the eye region of faces relative to a control group. Among individuals with ASD, reduced eye gaze was associated with higher threat ratings of neutral faces. Amygdala signal was elevated in the ASD group relative to controls. This elevated response was further potentiated by experimentally manipulating gaze to the eye region. Potentiation by the gaze manipulation was largest for those individuals who exhibited the least amount of naturally occurring gaze toward the eye region and was associated with their subjective threat ratings. Effects were largest for neutral faces, highlighting the importance of examining neutral faces in the pathophysiology of autism and questioning their use as control stimuli with this population. Overall, our findings provide support for the notion that gaze direction modulates affective response to faces in ASD.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 04/2013; 9(1). DOI:10.1093/scan/nst050 · 5.88 Impact Factor
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