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The theoretical use of the Affective Tigger as a tool for the emotional education of children with developmental impairments such as autism

A secondary motivation in building a reactive affective toy comes from research with autistic children [Blocher, 1999]. Autism is a rare psychological disorder that has been the subject of much research.

There are four main symptoms that partially identify the disorder. First Autistic children do not seek social interaction; in fact they often avoid other people... The second sign of autism is prolonged repetitive behaviors. These children may spend hours performing one or two actions with a single object or with their own bodies. The third symptom is the children's characteristic reaction to interruption of this ritualistic play and to changes in familiar parts of their environment: they often respond with a terrible temper tantrum. The fourth characteristic of autistic children is their severe inability to communicate, in infancy through gestures and later through language... The cause of autism is unknown... Most researchers now agree that autism is caused by some biological factor, although no one has yet been able to identify it [Fischer, 1984].

Autistic children feel and express emotion but have a difficulty in making sense of other people's emotions. Although autistic children may learn to understand what will earn them approval and disapproval, in the absence of other people they should experience neither pride nor guilt [Harris, 1989].

Kanner (1959), the man who first diagnosed and named autism, emphasizes that the abnormality in the autistic child's emotional response to other people is the fundamental impairment. ``When children with autism do engage in triadic interaction, then, it is generally to make a request, and very rarely to share an emotion or experience'' [Sigman and Capps, 1997].

As with deficits in imitation and joint attention behaviors, the effects of insufficient social referencing behavior are far-reaching and cumulative. These deficits restrict access to information that is relevant to a given situation, and - what is more important - they diminish autistic persons' participation in creating shared meaning. Joint attention and social referencing behaviors enable children to learn through and from other people how to respond to objects and events, both emotionally and behaviorally [Sigman and Capps, 1997].

Often these children seem not to know what they are experiencing... One little girl told her therapist, `I'd like my feelings to be dead because I get afraid they're going on and on and never stop and then I will just disappear in the feeling' [Cohen and Donnellan, 1987].

Autistic children need increased repetition to learn certain social skills. Lovaas (et. all. 1967) successfully used repetition as the primary teaching technique for autistic children, and it is still used today. By engaging the autistic child with a toy, such as the Affective Tigger, that has infinite patience, the child can practice emotional recognition skills with hundreds of repetitions.

The questions surrounding the emotional development of a child remain quite unanswered. Do infants have feeling states? At what age do expressive behaviors begin to reflect those states reliably? Thus far, we can only show that the age range from 2 years to 7 is marked with some dramatic emotional development milestones. We can, however, now identify some of the criterion on which to measure our assessment of the child's emotional intelligence. With this ruler, we can look at the 3 - 5 year old children and begin to identify their progress in quantitative ways.

The Affective Tigger project attempts to demonstrate the usefulness of employing a computer controlled toy in the study of children's emotional development. To this end, we looked at the effects of age, shyness, and siblings, on a measure of emotional intelligence of eleven different children. To quantify the level of emotional development of the child, we looked for signs of a developed sense of `other', recognition of the emotion expressed by the Affective Tigger, mimicry of his expressions, verbalization of feelings, emotional restraint, and physical acts of empathy.

next up previous contents
Next: Pilot Study Up: Child Development Previous: How Gender Biases a

Dana L Kirsch
Tue May 25 08:59:22 EDT 1999