Puppets: “What’s not to like?” It’s a lighthearted question that Katarzyna Chawarska ’00PhD, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, takes seriously.
Chawarska works with children who have autism spectrum disorder. These are children who struggle to express the things they want or need, who don’t always pay attention to or properly interpret nonverbal social cues—the raised eyebrow or other gestures. These are children who more often than not disengage from the social world around them. Might puppets, acting as social partners, Chawarska wondered, help them reengage?
Cheryl Henson ’84, president of the Jim Henson Foundation, had wondered the same thing. So, working with puppets provided by the Henson Foundation, Chawarska undertook an experiment to find out. Thirty-seven children with varying degrees of autism severity watched a short video in which a person and a puppet talked and played together. Another group of 27 children with typical cognitive development also watched the video. Chawarska used an eye-tracking method to monitor how the attention of each group focused or wandered.
“Our findings highlight the attentional and affective advantages of puppets which, hopefully, can be harnessed to augment the therapeutic efforts in children with ASD.”
— Shrub Oak International School (@ShrubOakInt) September 23, 2021