Using animal filters to help kids with ASD identify emotions

This study looked at whether the use of animal filters—or “anthropomorphic” stimuli—could help adolescents (12–17) with autism recognize and interpret emotions. The participants matched emotion words (angry, sad, afraid, happy, or surprised) to either photos of faces or the same photos with animal filters over them, like, this:

 
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Fun! And, the best part is, the animal filters made a big difference: the kids were significantly more accurate in matching when the animal filter was present (specifically, for “happy” and “angry”). Based on findings from previous research, the authors speculated that the animal filters may have increased the kids’ social interest and motivation, making it easier for them to focus on and correctly identify emotions. And, note, most of the participants also had an intellectual disability. The variability in cognitive and social functioning among kids with ASD makes finding appropriate evidence-based interventions challenging, so it’s great that this activity could theoretically work for a whole range of clients.

The researchers make it really easy to replicate this activity for your clients, too. The images they used are freely available for research purposes, but it would be just as easy to use your own photos or stock photos that you find online. And this free website was used to make the animal filters. Happy animal filter-making!

 

Cross, L., Farha, M., & Atherton, G. (2019). The animal in me: Enhancing emotion recognition in adolescents with autism using animal filters. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-04179-7

Social functioning after pTBI: Efficient assessment

As public awareness of pediatric traumatic brain injury (pTBI) increases, you might be finding more of these kids on your caseload before you know exactly what to do with them. (Never fear! That’s why TISLP is here!) SLPs and other professionals (school psychologists, teachers, and physicians) are often prepared to address issues such as fatigue, impulsiveness, and attentional deficits, but are you on the lookout for social communication deficits as well? For pTBI, these might show up in areas such as topic maintenance, figurative language, discourse organization, and non-verbal cues. (Check out this systematic review to get an even deeper understanding of how much pTBI can impact social communication.)

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Many parent-report measures for social communication are impractical (either because they are very lengthy or very age-specific), so Genova et al. tested out a tool you might already be using for autistic kids: Social Communication Disorder Checklist (SCDC). The SCDC is an efficient 12 item parent report tool, where parents rate how often various social, communication, and behavioral difficulties occur. The researchers paired the SCDC with two lengthier but valid assessments for pTBI: the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC-2) and a Theory of Mind task that assesses a child’s ability to recognize a speaker’s beliefs (what does the speaker think about this situation?) and intentions (what does the speaker want the listener to think?).

And great news: the results were promising!

  • As expected, parents of kids with TBI reported significantly higher social communication issues than the parents of healthy controls on the SCDC. (Not to mention more difficulty with the BASC-2 and Theory of Mind task, as expected.)

  • The SCDC was correlated with the BASC-2 measures and all but one of the Theory of Mind measures, giving researchers more confidence that the SCDC carries over well to children with TBI!

Admittedly, this is the first study examining the use of the SCDC in the pTBI population and, as such, should be considered with caution. AND a (valid) 12-item parent report measure does not a full formal assessment make…but it sure makes it a heck of a lot easier!

Genova, H. M., Haight, A., Natsheh, J. Y., Deluca, J., & Lengenfelder, J. (2019). The Relationship Between Social Communication and Social Functioning in Pediatric TBI: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in Neurology. doi:10.3389/fneur.2019.00850

Difficulty diagnosing social communication disorder

With detailed analyses of over 200 children, Ash and colleagues attempted to find reliable tools to diagnose S(P)CD* as distinct from autism spectrum disorder or language disorders, but were unable to identify a distinct diasnostic profile unique to S(P)CD. They state that, “the inclusion of S(P)CD in the DSM-5 framework occurred before empirically validated measures were available to identify the disorder.” However, within their analyses they did find some significant differences between the socioemotional profiles of boys and girls, only some of which are currently accounted for in our diagnostic tools. This emphasizes a need for more research on how to best account for sex when measuring the pragmatic skills of our young clients.

Ash, A.C., Redmond, S.M., Timler, G.R., Kean, J. (2016). The influence of scale structure and sex on parental reports of children’s social (pragmatic) communication symptoms. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/02699206.2016.1257655

*Social (pragmatic) communication disorder [S(P)CD] is a pragmatic disorder, not attributable to autism, language disorder, or other known disorders or medical conditions.