Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 2176–2186 | Cite as

Computer-Assisted Face Processing Instruction Improves Emotion Recognition, Mentalizing, and Social Skills in Students with ASD

  • Linda Marie RiceEmail author
  • Carla Anne Wall
  • Adam Fogel
  • Frederick Shic
Original Paper


This study examined the extent to which a computer-based social skills intervention called FaceSay™ was associated with improvements in affect recognition, mentalizing, and social skills of school-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). FaceSay™ offers students simulated practice with eye gaze, joint attention, and facial recognition skills. This randomized control trial included school-aged children meeting educational criteria for autism (N = 31). Results demonstrated that participants who received the intervention improved their affect recognition and mentalizing skills, as well as their social skills. These findings suggest that, by targeting face-processing skills, computer-based interventions may produce changes in broader cognitive and social-skills domains in a cost- and time-efficient manner.


Intervention Computer-assisted instruction Emotion recognition Mentalizing Social interactions 



The author thanks Moorpark Unified School District, the Director of Special Education, Richard Jenkins, Casey Wimsatt at Symbionica, LLC, and the faculty and staff of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.


  1. Adolphs, R., Sears, L., & Piven, J. (2001). Abnormal processing of social information from faces in autism. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13(2), 232–240.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amenta, S., Ferrari, C., & Balconi, M. (2014). Facial expression decoding in autistic and asperger children. Comprehensive Guide to Autism, pp 1885–1904.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM 5. Bookpointus. Retrieved from
  4. Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Mindblindness: An essay on Autism and theory of mind. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind” ? Cognition, 21(1), 37–46. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42(2), 241–251.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernard-Opitz, V., Ross, K., & Tuttas, M. L. (1990). Computer assisted instruction for autistic children. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 19(5), 611–616.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 78(2), 647–663. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01019.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blocher, K., & Picard, R. W. (2002). Affective social quest. In Socially intelligent agents (pp. 133–140). Springer. Retrieved from
  10. Bloom, P. (2002). How children learn the meanings of words. MIT press. Retrieved from
  11. 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(1), 211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bosseler, A., & Massaro, D. W. (2003). Development and evaluation of a computer-animated tutor for vocabulary and language learning in children with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(6), 653–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buitelaar, J. K., Van der Wees, M., SWAAB–BARNEVELD, H., & Van der Gaag, R. J. (1999). Theory of mind and emotion-recognition functioning in autistic spectrum disorders and in psychiatric control and normal children. Development and Psychopathology, 11(01), 39–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Calvert, S. L. (1999). Children’s journeys through the information age. McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from
  15. Calvert, S. L., Watson, J. A., Brinkley, V., & Penny, J. (1990). Computer presentational features for poor readers’ recall of information. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 6(3), 287–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, S. H. A., & Bernard-Opitz, V. (1993). Comparison of personal and computer-assisted instruction for children with autism. Mental Retardation. Retrieved from
  17. Chevallier, C., Kohls, G., Troiani, V., Brodkin, E. S., & Schultz, R. T. (2012). The social motivation theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 231–239.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2002). The social responsiveness scale. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services. Retrieved from
  19. Daou, N., Vener, S. M., & Poulson, C. L. (2014). Analysis of three components of affective behavior in children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(5), 480–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dawson, G., Meltzoff, A. N., Osterling, J., Rinaldi, J., & Brown, E. (1998). Children with autism fail to orient to naturally occurring social stimuli. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28(6), 479–485.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eisenberg, N., & Mussen, P. H. (1989). The roots of prosocial behavior in children. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from
  22. Frith, U. (2001). Mind blindness and the brain in autism. Neuron, 32(6), 969–979.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Golan, O., Ashwin, E., Granader, Y., McClintock, S., Day, K., Leggett, V., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2010). Enhancing emotion recognition in children with autism spectrum conditions: An intervention using animated vehicles with real emotional faces. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(3), 269–279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Golan, O., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006). Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to recognize complex emotions using interactive multimedia. Development and Psychopathology, 18(02), 591–617.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Golan, O., LaCava, P. G., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2007). Assistive technology as an aid in reducing social impairments in autism (pp. 124–142). Growing Up with Autism: Working with School-Age Children and Adolescents.Google Scholar
  26. Hadjikhani, N., Joseph, R. M., Snyder, J., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (2006). Anatomical differences in the mirror neuron system and social cognition network in Autism. Cerebral Cortex, 16(9), 1276–1282. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhj069.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harms, M. B., Martin, A., & Wallace, G. L. (2010). Facial emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorders: A review of behavioral and neuroimaging studies. Neuropsychology Review, 20(3), 290–322.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hauck, M., Fein, D., Waterhouse, L., & Feinstein, C. (1995). Social initiations by autistic children to adults and other children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25(6), 579–595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heimann, M., Nelson, K. E., Tjus, T., & Gillberg, C. (1995). Increasing reading and communication skills in children with autism through an interactive multimedia computer program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25(5), 459–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hopkins, I. M., Gower, M. W., Perez, T. A., Smith, D. S., Amthor, F. R., Wimsatt, F. C., & Biasini, F. J. (2011). Avatar assistant: Improving social skills in students with an ASD through a computer-based intervention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(11), 1543–1555.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Joseph, R. M., & Tanaka, J. (2003). Holistic and part-based face recognition in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44(4), 529–542.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 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. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(9), 809–816.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Korkman, M., Kirk, U., & Kemp, S. (2007). NEPSY-II. Pearson San Antonio, TX. Retrieved from
  34. Lacava, P. G., Golan, O., Baron-Cohen, S., & Myles, B. S. (2007). Using assistive technology to teach emotion recognition to students with asperger syndrome a pilot study. Remedial and Special Education, 28(3), 174–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Leekam, S. R., López, B., & Moore, C. (2000). Attention and joint attention in preschool children with autism. Developmental Psychology, 36(2), 261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Locke, J., Kasari, C., Rotheram-Fuller, E., Kretzmann, M., & Jacobs, J. (2013). Social network changes over the school year among elementary school-aged children with and without an autism spectrum disorder. School Mental Health, 5(1), 38–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moore, M., & Calvert, S. (2000). Brief report: Vocabulary acquisition for children with autism: Teacher or computer instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(4), 359–362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moore, D., Cheng, Y., McGrath, P., & Powell, N. J. (2005). Collaborative virtual environment technology for people with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(4), 231–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moore, C., & Corkum, V. (1994). Social understanding at the end of the first year of life. Developmental Review, 14(4), 349–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moore, D., McGrath, P., & Thorpe, J. (2000). Computer-aided learning for people with autism–a framework for research and development. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 37(3), 218–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mundy, P., Gwaltney, M., & Henderson, H. (2010). Self-referenced processing, neurodevelopment and joint attention in autism. Autism, 14(5), 408–429.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Panyan, M. V. (1984). Computer technology for autistic students. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 14(4), 375–382.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pelphrey, K. A., Sasson, N. J., Reznick, J. S., Paul, G., Goldman, B. D., & Piven, J. (2002). Visual scanning of faces in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(4), 249–261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rutishauser, U., Tudusciuc, O., Wang, S., Mamelak, A. N., Ross, I. B., & Adolphs, R. (2013). Single-neuron correlates of atypical face processing in autism. Neuron, 80(4), 887–899.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Samson, A. C., Huber, O., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Emotion regulation in Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. Emotion, 12(4), 659.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schultz, R. T., Grelotti, D. J., Klin, A., Kleinman, J., Van der Gaag, C., Marois, R., & Skudlarski, P. (2003). The role of the fusiform face area in social cognition: Implications for the pathobiology of autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 358(1430), 415–427.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shic, F., Bradshaw, J., Klin, A., Scassellati, B., & Chawarska, K. (2011). Limited activity monitoring in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Brain Research, 1380, 246–254.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 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(3), 299–316.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith, V., & Sung, A. (2014). Computer Interventions for ASD. In Comprehensive guide to Autism (pp. 2173–2189). Springer. Retrieved from
  50. Tanaka, J. W., Wolf, J. M., Klaiman, C., Koenig, K., Cockburn, J., Herlihy, L., & Schultz, R. T. (2010). Using computerized games to teach face recognition skills to children with autism spectrum disorder: The Let’s Face It! program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(8), 944–952.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Whalen, C., Liden, L., Ingersoll, B., Dallaire, E., & Liden, S. (2006). Behavioral improvements associated with computer-assisted instruction for children with developmental disabilities. The Journal of Speech and Language Pathology-Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1), 11–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Whalen, C., Moss, D., Ilan, A. B., Vaupel, M., Fielding, P., MacDonald, K., & Symon, J. (2010). Efficacy of TeachTown: Basics computer-assisted intervention for the intensive comprehensive autism program in Los Angeles unified school district. Autism, 14(3), 179–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. What Works Clearinghouse (2009). Intervention: SuccessMaker®. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from
  54. Wolf, J. M., Tanaka, J. W., Klaiman, C., Cockburn, J., Herlihy, L., Brown, C., et al. (2008). Specific impairment of face-processing abilities in children with autism spectrum disorder using the Let’s Face It! skills battery. Autism Research, 1(6), 329–340. doi: 10.1002/aur.56.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Xu, B., & Tanaka, J. W. (2014). Teaching children with autism to recognize faces. Comprehensive Guide to Autism, pp 1043–1059.Google Scholar
  56. Yamamoto, J., & Miya, T. (1999). Acquisition and transfer of sentence construction in autistic students: Analysis by computer-based teaching. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 20(5), 355–377.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Young, R. L., & Posselt, M. (2012). Using the transporters DVD as a learning tool for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 984–991.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zilbovicius, M., Saitovitch, A., Popa, T., Rechtman, E., Diamandis, L., Chabane, N., & Boddaert, N. (2013). Autism, social cognition and superior temporal sulcus. Open Journal of Psychiatry, 3, 46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda Marie Rice
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Carla Anne Wall
    • 3
    • 4
  • Adam Fogel
    • 2
    • 5
  • Frederick Shic
    • 3
  1. 1.Moorpark Unified School DistrictMoorparkUSA
  2. 2.California Graduate InstituteThe Chicago School of Professional PsychologyLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Yale Child Study Center, School of MedicineYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA
  5. 5.California Department of State Hospitals Headquarters – Clinical Operations DivisionCoalingaUSA

Personalised recommendations