Snow, M., Hertzig, M. & Shapiro, T. (1987) ‘Expression of Emotion in Young Autistic Children’, Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry 26: 836–8.
An widely held belief at the time of this paper was that autistics could not provide affective contact with others. Autistic children were seen as “unresponsive, labile, and/or inappropriate in their expression.” This study by Snow, Hertzig, and Shapiro explored the expression of emotions in social situations for children with autism and identified when and to which people they displayed the most positive and negative affect.
In order to see autistic children’s affect in social situations, the researchers found two groups of ten children. They decided to compare the autistic children to “developmentally delayed” children in their assessment of expression to determine whether the perceived lack of affect was due to a developmental “immaturity.” Researchers videotaped each child having three different interactions: five minutes with their mother, five minutes with their teacher, and five minutes with an unfamiliar child psychiatrist. Then, these behaviors were coded for the presence of operationally defined child behaviors. These behaviors were smile, giggle/laugh, positive squeal, which were considered positive affect; and frown, fuss/cry, and negative scream/yell, which were considered negative affect.
Researchers found that the autistic children displayed significantly less affect than the “delayed” group. Also, the autistic group displayed less positive affect than the delayed group. In addition, they broke down the affects of the children in terms of their “partner,” their mom, teacher, or stranger. The results showed that the autistic children displayed more negative affect with the stranger than their mother or their teacher. They also determined the affect in terms of the social context. Autistic children tended to show a higher proportion of their positive behaviors that were at random times and solitary-play, whereas the delayed group showed more positive affect with a partner-related interaction.
I thought that this paper was interesting, but I think that based on my interactions with the Tribe and our discussions, I know that emotions do not always have to be displayed outwardly when they are there. I also thought that it would have been interesting for them to add a neurotypical category and compare the results. In general, I think this paper makes our paper seem even more surprising, because it shows how effective imitation can be for autistic children.