Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often become fixated on a particular interest. Therapists often use a child’s interests or obsessions to connect with them and evolve their social skills. Furthermore, scientists are now suggesting that these interests can be used to develop one’s skills in a deeper way.
This method, called “affinity therapy”, came about after a clinical trial based on the idea that some children can develop social and emotional instincts through the characters they love. Animated characters are very strong stimuli, as the emotions expressed by each character are highly exaggerated. The way they express themselves, and the music that accompanies their reactions, often provides insight of how to react appropriately in social situations.
Researchers John D. E. Gabrieli of M.I.T., Pamela Ventola of Yale, and Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge, who has presented for ICare4Autism at previous conferences, are proposing a study to test this approach. “We individualize therapy to each child already, so if the child has an affinity for certain animated characters, it’s absolutely worth studying a therapy that incorporates those characters meaningfully,” states Dr. Kevin Pelphrey, Director the child neuroscience laboratory at Yale. These researchers are composing a 16-week trial for 68 children with Autism between the ages of 4 and 6. Half of these children will receive affinity therapy, using the movies or shows they love as a framework to enhance social interaction and build connections. This could potentially lead to feeling more comfortable expressing themselves, making eye contact, and participating in play with others. The other half of the group will engage in free play with the therapist.
Dr. Pelphrey states that the affinity approach could incorporate many elements of pivotal response treatment, which involves a system of rewards into the normal interactions between the therapist (or parent) and child. For example, a 7 year old child involved in a trial at Yale became fixated on bubbles. When the therapist stopped blowing bubbles, the boy had to look in the direction of the therapist, make eye contact, and express that he wanted him to continue. Eye contact and perspective taking (recognizing another’s point of view) developed quickly in this method of therapy. Dr. Pelphrey states that affinity therapy would incorporate similar techniques.
The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the current methods of Autism treatment, as well as scientific advances and research findings in NYC on July 1st. Among the speakers is Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, Professor of Autism Spectrum Studies at San Francisco State University, and Director of the Autism Institute on Peer Socialization and Play. Dr. Wolfberg will be giving a presentation on the benefits of social inclusion in play, and how it can maximize the developmental potential of children with Autism. To hear Dr. Wolfberg speak, please select your tickets here.
As Autism Awareness Month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing more of the treatments that are being used for children with ASD, as well as scientific findings and new research discoveries. We will also be highlighting several self-advocates and stories of hope. We hope that you will share these stories, and use the month of April to spread awareness about Autism! Please make a difference and donate today!