Department for Culture, Media and Sport
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The Transporters - a unique Government-backed DVD to help children with Autism recognise emotions to go on sale world-wide

The Transporters - a unique Government-backed DVD to help children with Autism recognise emotions to go on sale world-wide

DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT News Release (089\2008) issued by The Government News Network on 1 September 2008

A groundbreaking teaching resource to help children with autism make sense of the world around them is to be marketed internationally, following great success in the UK.

The Transporters, a DVD that uses a unique combination of real actors' faces and 3D computer-generated settings, was originally available to parents in the UK free as part of the DCMS funded Culture Online programme.

But its runaway success, with 40,000 copies already distributed, means it can now go on sale across the English-speaking world, with the prospect of translation into other languages in the future. Many families in the UK and living abroad were unable to get the DVD first time round and this, along with pressure from parents of recently diagnosed children who are desperate for help, created a demand which the makers are keen to address. A substantial share of profits from sales will go to autism charities and to research other scientifically validated ways to help children with autism spectrum conditions.

The DVD pack, together with information about the underlying research is available from a special website launched this week: http://www.thetransporters.com.

The DVD Pack, which is narrated by Stephen Fry, consists of 15 five minute animated stories, 30 interactive quizzes and a booklet to help parents and carers get the most out of the series. It aims to help children with autism recognise and understand different facial expressions by superimposing real faces (which the children normally find confusing because of their unpredictability) on vehicles such as trains, trams and cable cars which all have highly predictable movement. This predictability appeals to children with autism.

The DVD provides children with autism a setting that is designed to appeal to them, in which to learn about simple emotions such as happy, sad, angry and afraid, as well as more complex ones like sorry, tired, joking and unfriendly. The DVD has been carefully tested with children with autism and results show that it is an effective way to teach emotion. Following a four-week period of watching the DVD for 15 minutes a day, children with high-functioning autism caught up with typically developing children of the same age in their performance on emotion recognition tasks.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge who helped develop The Transporters said:

"Our aim is to help children with autism or Asperger Syndrome, who have disabling social difficulties, to recognise emotional expressions and how emotions relate to social interaction. This is the first time I've seen high-quality broadcast animation techniques used to produce a series expressly for children on the autistic spectrum."

Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society UK said:

"This is such a wonderful initiative and is going to make a huge difference to the lives of some very vulnerable children. Both the concept and execution The Transporters are excellent. Having worked in the field of autism for over 25 years, I know that a sensitive approach like this is just what's needed."

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge added:

"Culture and emotion are inextricable. That's why I'm delighted that the Government has been able to support The Transporters. Of course I'm proud too that UK creative talent, technical ingenuity and meticulous research should have created something so valuable that we can now offer to the rest of the world."

Notes to Editors

1. Culture Online was set up by the DCMS in 2002. Originally intended to be a two-year programme, it was subsequently extended for a further two years. With the initial remit to demonstrate how technology could be used creatively to engage new audiences, Culture Online commissioned 26 interactive projects, which have won 25 major industry awards.

2. One of the projects originally commissioned by Culture Online was The Transporters, a DVD project designed to help children aged 2 - 8 with autism and Asperger Syndrome to recognise facial expressions and the emotions that underlie them. This is something that such children find exceedingly hard to do - it is a problem for them and for the people around them. The project was led by an Executive Producer and Development Producer within the DCMS and was a collaboration between the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, the National Autistic Society and an animation company. Based on a sound understanding of the autistic mind, a series of 15, 5 minute episodes featuring animated vehicles with real human faces were created, along with carefully constructed interactive quizzes and a substantial booklet for parents and carers. There are eight characters, all toy vehicles with their own personalities and function. They are part of a toy set in a child's bedroom, an environment that is designed to be predictable (since children with autism love predictability) but not distracting. Each character has a real human (rather than a cartoon) face to make it easier for children to transfer their learning into real life. Children with autism tend to love vehicles. In particular, children with autism love vehicles that move predictably - like trams, cable cars and trains. They tend to dislike objects that move unpredictably. With The Transporters, children who don't naturally want to look at real people's unpredictable faces are encouraged to do so because they are "grafted" onto beautifully predictable, attractive vehicles.

3. The Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University is internationally recognised for its pioneering approaches to understanding the causes of autism spectrum conditions and developing novel, scientifically evaluated methods for detecting and helping people with these conditions. The Transporters was based on an idea from the Director of the Autism Research Centre, and is based on the hyper-systemizing theory of autism (the idea that the brain in people with autism spectrum conditions is strongly tuned to notice predictable patterns in the world, and has difficulty with information that is not easily systemizable, such as social interactions and emotions). The Autism Research Centre also carried out a scientific trial of The Transporters, the results of which were presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), London, 2008.

4. Changing Media Development Ltd creates and distributes products to help children with autism and other cognitive development conditions such as dyslexia. The company bases its work on good science and prides itself on its ability to translate the latest research into captivating experiences, using traditional media and new technologies. The individuals who comprise the company have won many international awards for their media, technical and scientific work for public-service projects. Changing Media Development Ltd will give 25% of its profit from the sale of this DVD pack to autism charities. Another 25% will pay for further research to develop new ways to help children with autism and related conditions. Information about The Transporters, as well as information about the research that underpinned its development and biographies of key staff are available at http://www.thetransporters.com

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