One of the main symptoms of autism is impairment in social interaction ability, resulting in difficulties in establishing proper interpersonal relationships, and verbal and nonverbal communication. Recently, research has shown that the impairment of s ...
One of the main symptoms of autism is impairment in social interaction ability, resulting in difficulties in establishing proper interpersonal relationships, and verbal and nonverbal communication. Recently, research has shown that the impairment of social interactions seen in autism is closely related to their deficits in facial perception. In other words, those with autism have a different, ineffective pathway when perceiving others’ faces, and this theory is supported by two hypothesis.
One hypothesis is the "difficulty in Holistic processing theory". This hypothesis suggests that the normal adult can quickly memorize and distinguish faces through ‘holistic process’, which ignores detailed information of the face and instead forms a wholesome representation, whereas those with autism have difficulties in processing the face as a whole and concentrate on detailed information, which is comparatively inefficient to normal processing.
Another hypothesis explaining the facial perceptional deficits of autism is the "Eye Avoidance Theory", which explains that those with autism have difficulties in socializing because they have an abnormal tendency to avoid the eyes processing the face. The eyes, a key piece of information when recognizing faces, places an important role in recognizing facial identities and expressions. To support this hypothesis, when performing face-related experiments on normal developmental adults, they spend the most time paying attention to the eyes, and showed the lowest performance in facial identity recognition when the faces’ eyes were hidden. On the other hand, those with autism tend to pay more attention to the mouth than the eye, and in contrast to persons with normal development, persons with autism had the lowest performance in facial identity recognition when the eyes of faces were given as clues to the faces’ identities.
Although rare, some researchers have developed a training program for facial perception in autism and have tested its effectiveness. As a result, all programs were effective in partially improving facial identity perception ability, and some programs even reported improvement in social interaction ability. However, such number of studies is yet limited to generalize the results, and there are no studies that separately trained eye contact ability and holistic process ability, the two factors that explain their facial perception ability, and compared their effects.
The purpose of this study was to develop an effective social training program for children and adolescents with autism, by developing a computer-based program package and comparing and evaluating its effectiveness.
A total of 63 autistic participants were recruited for the effectiveness study of the program. Of these participants, 53 participants participated in the study and the participants were randomly assigned to the eye contact training group, the holistic process training group, and the control group.
Before training, all groups performed 4 computer tasks to measure facial identity perception before training, and 4 surveys and 1:1 behavioral observation conducted with the experimenter to measure overall social interaction ability. Thereafter, the eye contact training group and the holistic process training group trained through the computer program for approximately 10-15 minutes a day, for 60 days, and the control group did not participate in any program during the same period of time. After the training, all groups performed the same tasks conducted before the computer program was started.
As a result of the study, the eye contact training group showed better recognition of facial identity after training compared to the the holistic process training group and the control group. In addition, the group that received the the holistic process training group significantly improved the frequency of eye gaze with other people in daily life (eg, grandmother, teacher, etc.) than the other two groups. Considering that facial identity perception and eye gaze ability are the foundation of diverse social skills, the FaceA program is expected to be effective in promoting long-term sociality.
The significance of this study is that the game-type computer-based eye alignment and whole contour processing training can be developed as a new social therapy method of autism. In addition, the results of this study may be used in the future development of similar social enhancement training programs, and for other groups besides autism that show impaired social interaction ability, such as schizophrenia or social anxiety. In the future, it will be necessary to develop a more sophisticated social enhancement training program by complementing the difficulty stages and training tasks of the program, to combine the program with the latest technologies such as AR / VR to further develop the app into a functional game program.