A revolutionary animated DVD is teaching children with autism aged two to eight years to recognise emotions.
Produced by leading scientists and film makers, the DVD features real human faces on animated toy vehicles. The DVD was launched in Australia on Monday 22 September.
Preview DVDs, broadcast quality footage from the DVD, interview material with autism expert and family, and stills are available.
“Children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome love order and predictability. So they shy away from people. To them, we’re confusing and unpredictable,” says Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.
“They like trains, trams and other mechanical objects that behave in simple predictable ways, but not faces and emotions which are less predictable,” he says.
“Our research suggested that if we graft real faces and emotions on to toy trains, trams, cable cars and chain-ferries – things that they love – then we could encourage children to pay attention to, and identify, human emotions.”
“Programs such as this which are highly motivating for young children with autism are very useful for teaching them about things that they are usually not very interested in, like faces and emotions,” says Cheryl Dissanayake, Director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University in Melbourne. “Unlike typically developing children, children with autism do not naturally seek out such information. This is hugely problematic for their social skills. Innovative techniques like the Transporter DVDs will help them to begin processing information that is central for their social cognitive development".
Working with UK actor Stephen Fry, the researchers and media experts have created a remarkable series of 15 short animated stories that are transporting autistic children into a world where they can explore simple emotions such as happy, sad, angry and afraid, as well as more complex ones like sorry, tired, joking and unfriendly.
A new study from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre looked at the impact of watching the animations. It shows that after using the DVD for 15 minutes a day over four weeks, most children with autism caught up with other children in their ability to recognise emotions.
The DVD has been available in the UK and has been distributed to 40,000 families.
“After only watching three or so episodes he knew the names of every character,” says the father of a boy with autism. “He then said to me, ‘Look, Daddy’s happy.’ This was the first time he’d ever said this. Ever.”
The resource pack was developed with support from the UK government’s Culture Online programme and is being distributed by Changing Media Development Ltd.
“Twenty-five percent of profits from sales will go to autism charities and research organisations. At least a further 25 per cent will be used by Changing Media Development to research and create other scientifically validated ways to help children with autism spectrum conditions. Ten percent of profits from sales in Australia will go to an autism charity in Australia.”
(Source: Science in Public: September 2008)