Grossman Studies Facial Expression to Aid People with Autism

Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Begins Groundbreaking Research

Communication Sciences and Disorders Assistant Professor Ruth Grossman talks about her grant to use Motion Capture devices to study emotional facial expression production in children with autism. (Filmed and edited by Emerson College students.)

Ruth Grossman

Heather West MFA '13 and Carrie Fuller
October 21, 2010

In her research, Communication Sciences and Disorders Assistant Professor Ruth Grossman wants to address some of the communication problems children with autism face as they interact with others at home and school.

“What I really wanted to ask is what are the facial expressions that these kids are producing, how are they different from the expressions that typical kids are producing, and can we pinpoint where it is going wrong for them,” she said.

In the spring of 2010 Grossman was awarded a research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to analyze communicative and emotional facial expression production in children with autism. Grossman will use motion-capture technology to study face-to-face communication in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“What I really wanted to ask is what are the facial expressions that these kids are producing, how are they different from the expressions that typical kids are producing, and can we pinpoint where it is going wrong for them.”

Motion-capture is a technique used in films like Avatar and The Polar Express to bring computer-generated characters to life. In most cases, actors wear motion-tracking suits that translate their movements onto the screen. Grossman relies on a similar process to study how individuals with ASD produce facial expressions. Participants in her study have up to 40 reflective markers attached to their facial muscles and are filmed by six cameras. “You want the markers to be symmetrically distributed across both sides of the face,” she said. “You want them to capture all movement so that no matter which part of the face we are looking at, at least two cameras can see a marker at the same time.”

Grossman hopes her study will eventually produce a more accurate system for coding fine muscle movement. The NIH grant will support her research for the next two years.
 

Communication Sciences & Disorders

Communication Sciences & Disorders

Emerson’s proximity to Boston’s world-class healthcare industry makes it a great choice for students pursuing a career in speech-language pathology and audiology. Through a pre-professional curriculum, students study the anatomical, structural, and biological basis of speech, language, and hearing.

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