Animation DVD helps children with autism to recognise human emotions

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at Cambridge University and David Lammy, Culture Minister, today launch a novel animation DVD to help young children with autism.

( – The Transporters DVD, commissioned by Culture Online, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, aims to help children with autism to look at the human face and to learn about emotions. The series of 15 five-minute episodes features the adventures of eight lovable toys with human faces, each focusing on a different human emotion. Stephen Fry is the narrator.

Behind the fun and colourful world of The Transporters lies some of the latest Cambridge research. The Autism Research Centre has been working with Culture Online and Catalyst Pictures to find new ways to help children with autism learn about emotions. Children with autism tend to avoid looking at human faces and find it hard to understand why facial features move in the way that they do. This inability to read emotions on the human face impairs their ability to communicate with other people. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen comments: “Just as a child with dyslexia can be helped significantly by using tailored educational methods to ease them into reading words, so a child with autism can be helped significantly by using tailored educational methods to ease them into reading faces.”

Research by Dr Ofer Golan and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from ARC found that 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. One parent who took part in the clinical trials said of their son with autism: “We have noticed a change in his behaviour, speech and range of emotional expressions since he started watching The Transporters. It’s a bit like someone’s flicked a switch in his head.”

Children with autism are often fascinated by rotating wheels, spinning tops, rotating fans, and mechanical, lawful motion. They prefer predictable patterns. For this reason all the toy vehicles featured in the The Transporters run on tracks or on lines. The 15 key emotions portrayed in The Transporters aimed at 2 to 8-year-olds are: happy, sad, angry, afraid, excited, disgusted, surprised, tired, unfriendly, kind, sorry, proud, jealous, joking and ashamed. Each episode has an associated interactive quiz to help the child learn about the featured emotion.

Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society, 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 the execution of The Transporters are excellent, and I’m very proud and grateful that the NAS is able to distribute 30,000 free copies of the DVDs to the people who need it. Having worked in the field of autism for over 20 years, I know that a sensitive approach like this is exactly what’s needed, and I wish it the success it deserves.”

The DVD will be sent out with a booklet for parents, teachers and carers. Copies can be requested via the website at

David Lammy, Culture Minister, said: “The Transporters is the latest interactive project from the Culture Online team, which has an enviable reputation for creating fun and engaging learning experiences. Imagine what a confusing world it must be for a child who cannot understand the significance of a smile or a frown. This project aims to make a very real difference to children with autism in helping them to understand human emotions.”

Claire Harcup, commissioning executive at Culture Online, said: “The Transporters exemplifies what Culture Online projects are all about: it’s fun and engaging but has a serious intent. The Transporters uses ground-breaking animation techniques to place human faces on the vehicles.”

Stephen Fry, who narrates The Transporters, said: “The Transporters is a fun yet educational animation series that I am pleased to have been a part of. It is an important and worthwhile creation to help children with autism understand emotions.”

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