Emotion recognition in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders




Siklos, Susan

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Despite the anecdotal evidence of social difficulties in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), and the risk for secondary disabilities as a result of these social difficulties, very little research has examined social-emotional functioning in children with FASD. The majority of the research conducted thus far has relied on parent and teacher reports to document social impairments. These parent and teacher reports provide a broad measure of social functioning but are unable to elucidate the specific aspects of social functioning that this group of children might find difficult. As a result, it has been very difficult to develop effective social interventions for children with FASD because it is unclear what aspects of social functioning should be targeted. The current study aimed to examine emotion recognition abilities in children with FASD, as recognition of emotions is an important precursor for appropriate social interaction. The study included 22 participants with diagnosed FASD (ages 8-14), with age- and gender- matched typically developing controls. Participants were assessed using computerized measures of emotion recognition from three nonlinguistic modalities: facial expressions (static and dynamic, child and adult faces), emotional tone of voice (child and adult voices), and body positioning and movement (postures and point-light walkers). In addition, participants completed a task assessing emotion recognition in real-life scenarios. Finally, caregivers completed measures of behavioural functioning, adaptive functioning, FASD symptomatology, and a demographics questionnaire. Overall, findings suggest that children with FASD do have more difficulties than age-matched typically developing peers in aspects of emotion recognition, with particular difficulties in recognizing emotions from adult facial expressions and adult emotional prosody. In addition, children with FASD had more difficulty perceiving differences in facial expressions. When the effect of age was examined, it was found that some aspects of emotion recognition were more impaired in children with FASD between age eight and ten years compared to same-age typically developing peers and compared to children with FASD age 11-14. This finding suggests that younger children with FASD may demonstrate a delay in the acquisition of some aspects of emotion recognition or may be more vulnerable to the information processing demands of some tasks compared to older children with FASD. The types of emotion recognition difficulties found in the current study supported a pattern where children with FASD make more errors on emotion recognition tasks when the complexity of the task is increased and consequently demands greater information processing. As such, it is anticipated that children with FASD would be likely to have the most difficulty with emotion recognition abilities embedded within complex, rapidly changing, real-world social situations, and in recognizing more subtle emotional displays. Caregivers, teachers, and professionals living and working with children and youth with FASD should be aware of possible emotion recognition difficulties in complex social situations and should help foster stronger emotion recognition skills when difficulties are detected.



Emotion recognition, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD, facial expressions, social functioning, social information processing, prosody