Children with Autism & Emotion

By Pascalle Karthaus

The aim of the project was to design a product or device that will enable autistic children to practice emotional expressions with the use of PrEmo animations. The product grows with the capabilities of the children and triggers the children to explore and learn.


Picture of the 'Snapje' application.

Project Background

Autistic children have trouble with socialization, communication and imagination. These problems reveal in symptoms like impaired recognition of affect, problems with imitation and abnormal non-verbal communication, like gestures and facial expressions.
The main problem is that autistic children have deficits in understanding emotions. They would benefit in life if they would be more able to understand emotions in general, identify their own emotions and recognize emotions expressed by others.


Autistic children have no trouble in emotion processing for cartoons, they do however have difficulty in generalizing this knowledge and applying it in a different situation and context. The challenge here is to link the emotions expressed by cartoons to the real world, so the children will benefit from it during their normal daily life.

PrEmo - Test

Cards of the PrEmo emotions were to be placed on a scale from easy to difficult. Soon, it appeared emotions are not that easily categorized, since emotions can be considered in so many ways.

To get a better idea on what to pay attention to when implementing the PrEmo cartoons in the product, research has been conducted with the PrEmo cartoons and several children at a special school.

  • How do these children interpret the PrEmo-emotions?
  • To what extent do the children have a general idea of the emotions?
  • How do the children respond on the PrEmo emotions?

The PrEmo’s placed in the dark green area are found easiest to recognize because of their expressiveness. The emotions placed in the light green area are the basic emotions that children have been thought and are therefore easy to recognize. Some children have trouble distinguishing the subtile differences between the positive emotions in the yellow and orange areas. The emotions placed in the red area are found difficult because these are very social emotions.

The Set-Up

The PrEmo emotions were viewed on a laptop one by one. After each emotion the child was asked to match the emotion with a word or match the emotion on a “playboard’ with the four familiar emotions depending on the child’s capabilities. After this they were asked about the meaning of the emotion and why they interpret the emotion as they did. Then the process was turned around for the four basic emotions. The children were given social story cards which they had to match with the emotions. The social story cards were given with a drawing and a story and they were asked which emotion they would feel when being in this situation

Result & Concept

The child can choose between four games; looking back the saved photos, playing a photogame, Match or Memory. In the first two options the PrEmo is always matched to the photo. In the last two options the PrEmo is always matched to the word.

Match and Memory assist the perfect memory of the children. These games also function in a way to help them familiarize themselves with the emotions. And taking advantage of their strengths, these games are not difficult, so they function as a good antithesis to the more difficult game ‘Tag a Photo with Emotion’.