A new DVD teaches autistic children how to recognize emotions like happiness, anger and sadness through the exploits of vehicles including a train, a ferry, and a cable car. It is the brainchild of Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University.
About a decade ago, Baron-Cohen suggested that autism — which is much less likely to afflict girls — might be an extreme version of the typical male brain. Men tend to understand the world via patterns and structure, whereas women are more inclined to understand emotions and sympathize with others.
Autism, Baron-Cohen believes, is a condition where people perceive systems and patterns while remaining almost oblivious to other people and their feelings.
To help autistic children understand emotions, Baron-Cohen and his team use eight track-based vehicles in their DVD. The vehicles have human faces grafted onto them, making focusing on human features unavoidable.
“Autistic children are often puzzled by faces, so this video helps focus on them in a way that makes it very appealing and soothing,” said Uta Frith, an emeritus professor of cognitive development at University College London, who was not involved in developing the video.
Frith said the DVD was a way for autistic children to learn social skills the way other children might learn math or a foreign language.
In a small study of 20 autistic children between ages 4 and 7, Baron-Cohen and colleagues found that autistic children who watched the video for at least 15 minutes a day for one month had caught up with normal children in their ability to identify emotions.
The DVD sells for $57.50 and includes interactive quizzes and a booklet for parents and teachers. It is available online at www.thetransporters.com. Half of the profits go to autism charities and research, and the other half goes to Changing Media Development, the company Baron-Cohen launched with colleagues.