PILOT STUDY FOR AN "EMOTION" TRAINING PACKAGE FOR ADULTS WITH ASPERGER SYNDROME
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Asperger Syndrome (AS) is considered to belong to the spectrum of autistic disorders. Although people with AS are more cognitively able than many others with autism, they share a number of traits including the social impairments identified by Wing and Gould ( 1979). Problems with processing emotional information may underlie some of these social impairments. Reported difficulties in this area include perceptual deficits which interfere with processing visual cues offered by others, difficulties in matching emotional signals across modalities (e.g. visual, auditory, and contextual), and lack of comprehension about affective information. The present study aimed to investigate the above emotional impairments, and to determine whether an intervention which developed the cognitive skills of adults with AS could compensate for some of these difficulties. Four participants, diagnosed as having AS by a psychiatrist, took part in the study. Each was assessed on emotion-processing tasks before and after finishing a six session intervention focusing on the use of cognitive and behavioural strategies to decipher affective information. Prior to the intervention, the difficulties reported by other studies on matching visual and cross-modal signals of emotional information were generally found, but results for comprehension of verbal terms and recounting emotional experiences were not clearly replicated. Following the intervention, all participants improved on or performed at ceiling level for the visual and cross-modal tasks. Predicted improvement on the comprehension tasks was not always found. It is suggested that although linguistic ability is obviously important in such tasks, exposure to social situations is required if connections are to be made between verbal labels, affective behaviours, and social contexts. Strengths and weaknesses of the overall design are discussed. It is argued that the single-case study approach was useful for revealing operational problems in an efficient manner. However, the small number of participants make it difficult to generalise the findings, and the materials used can be criticised in terms of their reliability and validity. Questions are raised about the potential to generalise improvement found in a controlled environment to more natural settings. It is concluded that although the design can be criticised on a number of counts, the results suggest it is possible to train adults with AS to systematically decipher visual and cross-modal emotional cues using their cognitive abilities. Recommendations for improving the intervention include concentrating on one aspect of emotional processing at a time. In view of the clearer findings for visual and cross-modal processing tasks it is proposed that these areas should be the starting point of an intervention. Further research could determine whether people with AS who have been taught to categorise visual cues in a systematic way can then be taught to link other forms of affective information to these physical images.
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