Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 40, Issue 12, pp 1505–1511 | Cite as

Teaching Emotion Recognition Skills to Children with Autism

  • Christian Ryan
  • Caitríona Ní Charragáin
Original paper


Autism is associated with difficulty interacting with others and an impaired ability to recognize facial expressions of emotion. Previous teaching programmes have not addressed weak central coherence. Emotion recognition training focused on components of facial expressions. The training was administered in small groups ranging from 4 to 7 children. Improvements were significantly better for the training group (n = 20, mean age 9 years, 3 months) than a waiting list control group (n = 10, mean age 10 years, 7 months). Pre and post measures revealed an effect size of the training of Cohen’s d = 1.42. The impact of the training was highly significant. There was evidence of some generalisation of the emotion recognition and improvements at follow-up.


Autism Emotion recognition Facial expressions 



We wish to thank COPE Foundation who supported and funded this project and to the COPE Foundation Research Committee who granted ethical approval and offered encouragement and support with the project. We wish to thank the Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Developments for supplying us with MacBrain Face Stimulus Set which was used in the teaching part of our project. Development of the MacBrain Face Stimulus Set was overseen by Nim Tottenham and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development. Please contact Nim Tottenham at for more information concerning the stimulus set. This research was completed as part of the second author’s Master’s in Speech and Language Therapy at City University, London.


  1. Attwood, T. (2000). Strategies for improving the social integration of children with Asperger syndrome. Autism, 4, 85–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen, S. (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Science, 6, 248–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S., Golan, O., Chapman, E., & Granader, Y. (2007). Transported to a world of emotion. The Psychologist, 20, 76–77.Google Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37–46.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S., Spitz, A., & Cross, P. (1993). Can children with autism recognize surprise? Cognition and Emotion, 7, 507–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S. C., Wheelwright, S., & Jolliffe, T. (1997). Is there a “language of the eyes”? Evidence from normal adults, and adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Visual Cognition, 4, 311–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Begeer, S., Rieffe, C., Terwogt, M. M., & Stockmann, L. (2006). Attention to facial emotion expressions in children with autism. Autism, 10, 37–51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bölte, S., Hubl, D., Feineis-Matthews, S., Prvulovic, D., Dierks, T., & Poustka, F. (2006). Facial affect recognition training in autism: Can we animate the fusiform gyrus? Behavioral Neuroscience, 120, 211–216.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Carruthers, P. (2006). The architecture of the mind. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castelli, F. (2005). Understanding emotions from standardized facial expressions in autism and normal development. Autism, 9(4), 428–449.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Davies, S., Bishop, D., Manstead, A. S. R., & Tantam, D. (1994). Face perception in children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35(6), 1033–1057.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Deruelle, C., Rondan, C., Gepner, B., & Tardif, C. (2004). Spatial frequency and face processing in children with autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 199–210.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1981). Peabody picture vocabulary test-revised. Minnesota: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  15. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1976). Pictures of facial affect. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.Google Scholar
  16. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1978). Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. R. (2003). Unmasking the face: A guide to recognizing emotions from facial expressions. Cambridge, MA: Malor Books.Google Scholar
  18. Golan, O., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006). Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to recognise complex emotions using interactive multimedia. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 591–617.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Happé, F. (1996). Studying weak central coherence at low levels: Children with autism do not succumb to visual illusions: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 873–877.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hobson, R. P. (1986). The autistic child’s appraisal of expressions of emotion: A further study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27(5), 671–680.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hobson, R. P. (1991). Methodological issues for experiments on autistic individuals’ perception and understanding of emotion. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32(7), 1135–1158.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hobson, R. P., Ouston, J., & Lee, T. (1988). What’s in a face? The case of autism. British Journal of Psychology, 79, 441–453.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Joseph, R., & Tanaka, J. (2003). Holistic and part-based face recognition in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44(4), 529–542.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Klin, A., Jones, W., Schultz, R., Volkmar, F., & Cohen, D. (2002). Visual fixation patterns during viewing of naturalistic social situations as predictors of social competence in individuals with autism. Achieve of General Psychiatry, 59, 809–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Langdell, T. (1978). Recognition of faces: An approach to the study of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 19(3), 255–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lord, C., Rutter, M., Goode, S., Heemsbergen, J., Jordan, H., Mawhood, L., et al. (1989). Autism diagnostic observation schedule: A standardized observation of communication and social behavior. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19(2), 185–212.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Macdonald, H., Rutter, M., Howlin, P., Rios, P., Le Conteur, A. L., Evered, C., et al. (1989). Recognition and expression of emotional cues by autistic and normal adults. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 865–877.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approach to autism spectrum disorders. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1990). Are there emotion perception deficits in young autistic children? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31, 343–361.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Palermo, M. T., Pasqualetti, P., Barbati, G., Intelligente, F., & Rossini, P. M. (2006). Recognition of schematic facial displays of emotion in parents of children with autism. Autism, 10, 353–364.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Raven, J. C., Court, J. H., & Raven, J. (1977). Standard progressive matrices. London: H. K. Lewis & Co. Ltd.Google Scholar
  32. Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., & Renner, B. R. (2002). The childhood autism rating scale (CARS) manual. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  33. Shah, A., & Frith, U. (1983). An islet of ability in autistic children: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24, 613–620.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Silver, M., & Oakes, P. (2001). Evaluation of a new computer intervention to teach people with autism or Asperger syndrome to recognize and predict emotions in others. Autism, 5, 299–316.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Speer, L. L., Cook, A. E., McMahon, W. M., & Clark, E. (2007). Face processing in children with autism. Autism, 11(3), 265–277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Swettenham, J. (1996). Can children with autism be taught to understand false belief using computers? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 157–165.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Tantum, D., Monaghan, L., Nicholson, H., & Stirling, J. (1989). Autistic children’s ability to interpret faces: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30(4), 623–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tottenham, N., Borscheid, A., Ellertsen, K., Marcus, D. J., Nelson, C. A. (2002). Categorization of facial expressions in children and adults: establishing a larger stimulus set. Poster presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  39. Turk, J., & Cornish, K. (1998). Face recognition and emotion perception in boys with fragile-X syndrome. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 42, 490–499.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Wing, L., Leekam, S. R., Libby, S. J., Gould, J., & Larcombe, M. (2002). The diagnostic interview for social and communication disorders: background, reliability and clinical use. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 307–325.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.North Lee Autism Spectrum Disorder ServiceCOPE FoundationCorkIreland

Personalised recommendations