The role of linguistic and cognitive factors in emotion recognition difficulties in children with ASD, ADHD or DLD.Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2020 03; 55(2):231-242.IJ
Many children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or developmental language disorder (DLD) have difficulty recognizing and understanding emotions. However, the reasons for these difficulties are currently not well understood.
To compare the emotion recognition skills of children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as those children's skills with the skills of their typically developing (TD) age peers. Also, to identify the role of underlying factors in predicting emotion recognition skills.
METHODS & PROCEDURES
The 6-10-year-old children (n = 50) who participated in the study had either ASD, ADHD or DLD and difficulties recognizing emotions from face and/or in voice. TD age peers (n = 106) served as controls. Children's skills were tested using six forced-choice tasks with emotional nonsense words, meaningful emotional sentences, the FEFA 2 test, photographs, video clips and a task in which facial expressions and tones of voice had to be matched. Expressive vocabulary, rapid serial naming, auditory and visual working memory and Theory of Mind skills were explored as possible explanatory factors of the emotion recognition difficulties of the diagnosed children.
OUTCOMES & RESULTS
Children with ASD, ADHD or DLD did not significantly differ from each other in their linguistic or cognitive skills. Moreover, there were only minor differences between children with these diagnoses in recognizing facial expressions and emotional tone of voice and matching the two. The only significant difference was that children with ADHD recognized facial expressions in photographs better than children with DLD. The participants with diagnoses scored significantly lower than the controls in all but one emotion recognition tasks presented. According to the linear regression analysis, first-order Theory of Mind skills predicted the delay relative to typical development in the recognition of facial expressions in the FEFA 2 test, and expressive vocabulary and working memory skills together predicted the delay in the recognition of emotions in the matching task.
CONCLUSIONS & IMPLICATIONS
Children with ASD, ADHD or DLD showed very similar emotion recognition skills and were also found to be significantly delayed in their development of these skills. Some predictive factors related to linguistic and cognitive skills were found for these difficulties. Information about impaired emotion recognition and underlying linguistic and cognitive skills helps to select intervention procedures. Without this information, therapy might unnecessarily focus on only symptoms.