Autism and Emotion Recognition

FULL TITLE: Effects of a Constructivist Learning Environment on the Emotion Recognition Skills of Individuals with Autism (ASD)

Michael J. O'Connor

Michael J. O’Connor

This study explores the efficacy of a constructivist mobile application, aimed at individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for learning to recognize facial expressions. [Keywords: autism, ASD, emotion recognition, facial expressions, constructivist environment]


Emotions, Facial Expressions

A characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a difficulty identifying and interrupting facial expressions (APA, 2000). The ability to discern emotion from facial expressions is essential for successful social interaction (Leppänen and Nelson, 2006). This study pursues development of an app that adheres to constructivist learning environment as defined by educational theorist David Jonassen.

Emotion Recognition (ER) is an app that allows people with ASD to develop, test and experiment with facial expression recognition (FER).

What makes ER different from other types of FER software for people with ASD is that users of ER can customize every aspect of the app, from the interface to content to functionality. In this way, users will be able to alter the app to meet their learning goals.

The app will allow users to test their FER skills and examine aspects of facial expressions on a number of different faces. The app can also access the user’s photos located on their device and identify the expressions of people they know. Users can organize faces by person, expression, or facial feature. Users can also annotate their photos and share them with other users.

There is robust in-app, online and live support available to all users. ER is a HTML5 based application so that it is compatible with both Apple and Android operating systems.

Users of ER will be tested before and after use of the app for their FER skills and interviewed about their experiences with the app.

This project contributes to a broader, group exploration of how mobile technology can be used to assist a variety of learners, including individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to relate to the world and explore their full potential. Research projects in this area focus on individuals of a wide variety of ages and ability levels. Emerging mobile technologies have opened up a new world of assistive technologies, and an expansion of online learning environments. We are interested in exploring different tools and pedagogical approaches through our various research projects.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text Revised). Washington, DC: Author.

Leppänen, J. M., & Nelson, C. A. (2006). The development and neural bases of facial emotion recognition. Advances in child development and behavior, 34, 207-246.