Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: The Transporters

The Transporters is a DVD aimed at kids with autistic spectrum disorders, designed to help them learn to understand other people's emotions from their facial expressions.

The Transporters are vehicles of various types, each of the sort that travels along defined lines ie. tracks or cables - predictability is important to autistic kids. It's a bit like Thomas the Tank Engine, with the important difference that each has a real face.

Each of the 15 episodes focuses on a particular emotion, with the face showing that emotion in response to events. We see the characters being happy, sad, angry, disgusted (love that one), worried, afraid, unfriendly, jealous, excited, surprised, tired, proud, sorry, and perhaps a couple I've forgotten. Alex thinks they should be pissed off too. The characters do not speak at all - the only speaking is done by narrator Stephen Fry, who tells us what is happening and what the characters are feeling.

After each episode, there is an optional quiz, testing the kid's understanding of what facial expressions mean and what a character might feel in a particular situation, with the choice of 'easy' or 'hard' versions of the quiz.

In my humble opinion, The Transporters works a treat. After several weeks of watching it regularly, Joe definitely looks at people's faces more, and works hard at figuring out how they are feeling. He thinks more about how a person might feel in any particular situation. This is important progress. However, he still needs to go the step further and work out that sometimes his actions might have prompted the particular feeling, and that if it is a negative feeling, then he should desist from the behaviour that prompted it (eg. spitting at mummy makes her angry, so don't spit at mummy).

A couple of minor niggles ... There are six male characters, two female. It should be equal. Although this proportion does reflect the incidence of ASDs between the two genders, that is not the point - it needs to reflect the genders of the faces whose expressions the autistic kids need to figure out. There are two black characters, but no Asian, Arab or mixed-race. And none of the characters have glasses (that's not an issue of being representative, but of learning to read emotions in eyes behind lenses)!

I would thoroughly recommend The Transporters to parents of autistic kids. I would also thoroughly recommend that the government fund every autistic child to be given a free copy when they are diagnosed, rather than having to fork out thirty quid to buy one.

Now, what was I saying last week about access to services for autistic kids being biased against working-class families?