Attention Modification to Attenuate Facial Emotion Recognition Deficits in Children with Autism: A Pilot Study

  • Andrea Trubanova Wieckowski
  • Susan W. WhiteEmail author
Original Paper


Diminished attending to faces may contribute to the impairments in emotion recognition and expression in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The current study evaluated the acceptability, feasibility, and preliminary efficacy of an attention modification intervention designed to attenuate deficits in facial emotion recognition (FER). During the 10-session experimental treatment, children (n = 8) with ASD watched dynamic videos of people expressing different emotions with the facial features highlighted to guide children’s attention. Children and their parents generally rated the treatment as acceptable and helpful. Although FER improvement was not apparent on task-based measures, parents reported slight improvements and decreased socioemotional problems following treatment. Results suggest that further research on visual attention retraining for ASD, within an experimental therapeutic program, may be promising.


Autism spectrum disorder Facial emotion recognition Eye-tracking Attention training 



This work was funded by Organization for Autism Research Graduate Research Grant and the Routh Research and Dissertation Grant through Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, APA Division 53. We are grateful to the children and families who participated in this study. We also greatly appreciate the help from Stephanie Roldan, who has aided in the development of the Matlab code to analyze the eye-tracking data.

Author Contributions

ATW and SWW contributed to the study conception and design. ATW performed data collection, data analysis, and drafted the manuscript. SWW contributed to revision of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no potential conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The research involved human participants.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained prior to data collection.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea Trubanova Wieckowski
    • 1
  • Susan W. White
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Center for Youth Development and InterventionThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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