Individuals on the spectrum are often poorly understood by others because of impaired “social cognition,” which means they have difficulty observing social rules, participating in social routines, or understanding and expressing emotions. People with autistic disorders tend to have trouble with social interaction and communication and a limited repertoire of activities and interests, and about one out of 10 of those with autism possess extraordinary skills in the areas of music, art, mathematics, or memory.

Scientists at the Center for BrainHealth are developing ways to improve social cognition skills and clinically evaluate the ability to strengthen or repair social brain networks in order to positively impact social behavior required for daily and complex interactions.

This research was recently featured on the TODAY Show.

Charisma: Social Cognition Training

Since 2008, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth have been investigating how a game-based social cognition training can provide dynamic and realistic opportunities for social success in both children and adults. In each session, participants use avatars to practice social situations during an interactive coaching session. The game-based, virtual learning platform and training is designed to stimulate social-cognitive reasoning skills that can be translated into real-world success. Charisma, formerly called Social Cognition Virtual Reality Training, is now available to youth and adults, regardless of diagnosis, through the Brain Performance Institute.

Why virtual reality?
  • Our virtual reality technology provides a safe, inviting and effective platform for improving social skills, cognition, and functioning for those on the autism spectrum.
  • Traditional role-play therapy is limited by a lack of realism, as the clinician’s appearance and location are fixed. Virtual reality allows for changeable identities and adaptable surroundings that helps create limitless scenarios.
Measuring social brain change
  • Researchers are currently using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to help identify biomarkers and social-cognitive systems of change associated with Charisma to further the understanding of how to maximize a person’s social potential.
  • Participants who completed the Charisma training significantly improved in the ability to recognize others’ emotions, ability to engage in conversation and ability to understand what others may be thinking or feeling.
Real-world results

Three-month follow-up results show:

  • 71% reported improvement in starting a conversation
  • 100% reported improvement in maintaining a conversation
  • 86% reported improvement in understanding other points of view
  • 86% reported improvement in establishing relationships
National partnership

The Center for BrainHealth’s research team is partnering with Yale University’s Child Study Center to test the feasibility of providing the research-based training program to young adults across the country. This ongoing partnership seeks to help those on the autism spectrum achieve economic and social independence.

Learn more about the partnership with Yale University.

Visit our Youth Social Cognition and Adult Social Cognition training pages to learn more about our targeted Virtual Reality Social Cognition programs.

Participate in our research. Center for BrainHealth researchers are currently recruiting for the Advanced Reasoning Training in Autism (Ages 18-40) study.