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Campus Spotlight

Paul LaCava


Image Above: Dr. Paul LaCava working

Dr. Paul LaCava

Can a DVD help teach children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? That is what Dr. Paul LaCava is investigating with a project titled, “Using Video to Teach Emotion Recognition Skills,” funded by Bailey’s Team for Autism. Dr. LaCava is an assistant professor in the Special Education department and has been working with children with ASD for many years.

“At the core of ASD is social-communication impairment. Moreover, a common finding in ASD includes delays in emotion recognition,” explains Dr. LaCava.

The goal of his study is to assess the effectiveness of a video product called The Transporters: Discover the World of Emotions. The video was developed at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. Dr. LaCava is testing whether it helps children with ASD develop better emotion recognition skills. He hopes that his findings will help families and teachers choose the most effective tools to help their children learn.

The video includes fifteen, five-minute episodes each focused on a different emotion. The main characters are trains, boats, and other vehicles similar to Thomas the Tank Engine. However, instead of illustrated faces, The Transporters vehicles have large, real human faces, which make them more easily read for social cues. According to Dr. LaCava, the episodes play to the strengths that children with ASD often have for recognizing patterns and systems, and focuses on this as a way to emphasize emotions using both verbal and nonverbal communication.

For the study, children with ASD between the ages of four and seven watch the video for fifteen minutes each day, for a month. Then they are evaluated to see if their emotion recognition skills have changed.

Dr. LaCava is working with Dr. Ofer Golan, a colleague and longtime collaborator in Israel. Dr. LaCava also has the help of two PhD students, Brandis Ruise from URI, and Jonathan Friesem who is enrolled in the URI/RIC Ph.D. Education program. Together, this team has developed the current study as a pilot for a future clinical trial.

Dr. LaCava believes that his work is helping to strengthen the research community at RIC and provide the college opportunities for exposure.

“Autism research is often in the public eye, and it’s important for the community to know that RIC is part of that conversation.”

Page last updated: May 8, 2014