• Glenn Longacre, CEO Cato

Can emotion recognition be taught to children on the autism spectrum?

Children with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have major difficulties in recognizing and responding to emotional and mental states in others' facial expressions. Such difficulties in empathy underlie their social-communication difficulties that form a core of the diagnosis.


We define empathy as the ability to attribute mental states to others, and to respond with an appropriate emotion to the other person's mental states.

Can empathy be taught? There are 2 ways.

First, if you take emotions that are fractionated into six “basic” emotions (happy sad angry, afraid, disgusted and surprised) and show a developmentally delayed child what that cognitive state looks like in a game, they will respond.

Second, since emotion recognition difficulties in a child are in part due to a failure to interpret the mentalistic information conveyed by the eyes, you let the child actually practice making the emotion in their own face.


Individuals with ASC have intact or even enhanced abilities in ‘systemizing’. At the heart of systemizing is the ability to detect patterns or rules of the form ‘if a, then b’. The systemizing theory of autism relates this affinity to their systematic and predictable nature.


If children with ASC possess intact or enhanced systemizing skills, it may be possible for them to use such skills to facilitate their empathy, particularly in the cognitive component of emotion recognition. SmirkeeCares is the vehicle for an ASC child to process both Empathy and Systemization in a way that will give them an increased awareness of social cues of which they sadly are unaware.

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