I had the opportunity to review a newly released DVD, “The Transporters,” developed based on research, to teach children, ages 4-8, with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to recognize and name emotions based on facial expressions.
This clever DVD takes advantage of the fact that children with ASD tend to like mechanical objects with highly predictable movement rather than faces that are constantly changing. Combining the two, developers created 15 episodes involving the six mechanical characters such as a ferry, train and bus with expressive human faces on the front of each vehicle. Sally the Cable Car is a bit bossy while William the Chain Ferry is quite dependable. The thoughtful dialogue is provided by the narrator so children aren’t distracted by the faces speaking but concentrate on the facial expressions.
When the little boy, Jamie, leaves for school, his toys come alive and transport the viewer to an engaging world of adventure, reactions and problem solving. The episodes graduate in theme from simpler to more complex emotions to recognize–from happy, sad and angry to proud, ashamed and jealous–with quizzes following the stories to check understanding.
As I viewed the episodes, I was impressed with the care that the researchers and developers took to select words and situations that named and reinforced emotions through clear, short sentences, exercising flexibility of language. Sally’s “happy” was linked with enjoy, love, laugh, friends, favorite thing to do, get there on time, good working order, helping friends, thank, and great friends. Varied phrases described the episode that capture the resulting emotion, teaching children language in many contexts. Nigel however was “angry” linked to stop shouting, didn’t say thank you, take more time, stuck behind, and forced to go slowly. Using the vocabulary associated with situations linked to an emotion and matching it with a closeup of the facial expression is an effective teaching tool for children with ASD. Children are drawn to the facial expressions as they change to match the situations described and explained by the narrator.
Backed by research, “The Transporters” has been found to be effective in teaching emotions to children with autism who viewed the DVD for just 15 minutes a day over a month period. They were able to identify and generalize what they learned. I offered parents a chance to use “The Transporters with their children on the autism spectrum. One parent whose child viewed the episodes said, “My 4 year-old son, on the spectrum loved these videos from the first time he saw them. He has recognized and pointed out my facial expressions for the first time and more readily recognizes expressions in books.” An added value is that his 6 year-old typically developing brother loved them too!
A 34 page booklet accompanies he DVD, introducing the characters, explaining the episodes, offering activity suggestions for teachers and parents and further suggested resources for autism and emotions.
Most impressive is that 25% of the profits go to further research and autism charities.