February 2014

A Friendly’s Song

I feel like I have au-kward moments every other day, rather than every week. This makes sense, though, considering I have two twin sisters with autism that are very vocal, charismatic, and outgoing.

Luckily, this week was extra special. I went home from college for the weekend and went to Friendly’s with my mother, father, and sisters. We went at prime time: 12 o’clock noon when the restaurant was filled with children. Since most looked to be around age 12 and under, I assumed most of those children didn’t understand autism up-close — let alone from afar — so I was already preparing myself for their curious stares when one of my sisters was guaranteed to give them something to talk about! And she did: Emma gave them a fun-filled example!

Sesame-StreetMy sister Emma has been on a YouTube-kick watching this particular Sesame Street clip with lots of high-pitched singing. Emma is the queen of repetition, and decided not only to sing just as the characters do, but extremely exaggerated. It was like Sesame Street Live!’s Broadway show without costumes. Needless to say, we all got the deer-in-the-headlights stares from the kids and perfectly practiced eye rolls that we were waiting for from the parents. But, oh, how my family laughed at her on-point spontaneity! For a moment, I wished I had the courage to entertain via restaurant cabaret, too.

And you’re welcome, parents. Your children got a free show with lunch. 🙂

— Diana Alessandrini

theautismresearchfoundationA Friendly’s Song
read more

Recent Study Shows Children with Autism Viewed as Less Friendly by Peers

First impressions matter: whether you are looking at facial expressions, gestures, or just general appearance, people are quick to form judgments about others. Many researchers have studied nonverbal expressivity, or the human ability to express internal emotions or feelings without using verbal language. Facial expressions are a key form of nonverbal communication, especially in making a positive first impression.

flateffectA common symptom in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is the inability to read facial expressions or pick up on subtle social cues, making it difficult to connect with others. Research studies examining expressivity in children with ASDs also find patterns of flat affect and bizarre facial expressivity. Flat affect refers to a lack of emotional reactivity, meaning any sort of facial animation or expressive gestures are very minimal.

While flat affect is well documented in the field of autism, a recent study conducted at the University of London examined the influence that this poor expressivity can have in terms of forming first impressions.

Published in the journal Autism, the study looked at the initial impressions that typically developing children form about other children featured in brief videos. Forty-four typically developing children watched a series of brief, silent videos. The videos featured a mix of typically developing children and children with ASDs, all of similar age. The children viewing the videos were unaware that any of the children in the videos were on the autism spectrum.

After watching, the viewers were asked to give friendship ratings of all the children in the videos. Results indicated that the children formed an impression of the video subjects with ASDs in as little as 30 seconds. Viewers rated children with ASDs lower on nearly all measures of the friendship scale in comparison to the typically developing peers. For example, viewers indicated they were less likely to want to be friends with these children, less likely to want to play with these children. Viewers also rated theses subjects as less trustworthy.

This study determined that even when exposure time is brief, impression formation is less positive towards children with ASDs. Unfortunately, the results of this study are not heartening. Children with ASDs struggle socially, and it is likely these negative first impressions are contributing this peer rejection. These findings should be considered and used to create thoughtful strategies to help remedy this problem.

Specialists should consider the importance of first impressions and focus on improving facial expressivity in individuals with ASDs at a young age. In addition, schools should make a dedicated effort to educate typically developing children about autism and associated symptoms. Educating these children and increasing awareness will hopefully encourage a more thoughtful first impression formation process.

This is one of many of The Autism Research Foundation’s goals. We provide many awareness programs in the community in hopes of improving the quality of relationships in individuals with autism. To learn more about some of these programs, click here.

theautismresearchfoundationRecent Study Shows Children with Autism Viewed as Less Friendly by Peers
read more

Poem: Acceptance of Autism

Acceptance of Autism 

Wanting to be free

Wanting to be me

Trying to make people see

And accept the real me

Some people think my voice is too loud

And that my mannerisms strike them as being odd

This perception of me by others keeps me feeling blue

But there are plenty of struggles in life that I must get through

I am determined to show my critics my true personality

Hoping that people move away from their narrow-minded mentalities

I want them to know that I am a bright young man

Who is willing to take on as many challenges in life as I can

— Scott Lentine, a smart, poetic, and inspiring 26-year-old man who happens to have autism

theautismresearchfoundationPoem: Acceptance of Autism
read more