Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
… pushes forward research into autism
WHAT A talented family. He may be the first cousin of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, but Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is gaining increasing international acclaim in his own right.
The 48-year-old director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge (ACR) has spent 25 years researching the condition. Last week he launched a novel animation-based DVD to help young children with the disorder. Early results are extremely promising.
The Transporters — narrated by Stephen Fry — is a series of 15-minute episodes featuring the adventures of eight animated toy vehicles with cartoon human faces grafted on them.
Prof Baron-Cohen tells People: “Children with autism are not very good at looking at human faces, so we thought the DVD would be a good way of easing them into reading faces and emotions.
“Although preliminary, results of an evaluation into the DVD as an intervention are promising. A group of 25 children with autism were given copies of the DVD to use over a four-week period, for 15 minutes per day.
“We saw a dramatic improvement in children’s ability to recognise human emotions.”
Now based in Cambridge, he grew up in Golders Green, North London. Like his cousin, Prof Baron-Cohen is an “old Haberdashers’ Aske’s boy”. He went on to gain a psychology PhD at University College London and says that his sister — who has severe physical and mental disabilities — “might have been a factor in his interest into autism.”
The £500,000 project was funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in partnership with the ACR and Catalyst, an animation company. Forty thousand DVDs have been produced and are being given free to every child on the autistic spectrum aged two to eight on a first come, first served basis.