Development of emotion comprehension in children with autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome

Autism Res. 2023 Dec;16(12):2378-2390. doi: 10.1002/aur.3053. Epub 2023 Nov 16.


Although research has shed light on the development of emotion comprehension in typically developing children, little is known about emotion comprehension in children who are developing atypically. Thus, this study examined the developmental trajectory of emotion understanding in non-clinical (NC) children and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS) using a Test of Emotion Comprehension. In the test, we measured children's understanding of (I) recognition of emotions based on facial expressions, (II) external causes of emotions, (III) desire-based emotions, (IV) belief-based emotions, (V) the influence of a reminder on a present emotional state, (VI) regulating an experienced emotion, (VII) hiding an emotional state, (VIII) mixed emotions, and (IX) moral emotions. A Bayesian modeling approach was applied to compare the developmental trajectories of emotion understanding across the syndrome groups. The results revealed that NC children and children with WS followed significantly different developmental trajectories in specific aspects of emotion understanding, while children with ASD followed a very similar path to NC children. Children with ASD and NC children gradually developed an understanding of each component of emotion comprehension as they matured. However, the understanding of some components, such as desire-based emotions, hiding an emotional state, and moral emotions, in children with WS was affected by their Autism Spectrum Quotient scores. This is one of the first cross-syndrome studies to assess the development of emotion comprehension in children with ASD and WS, providing important insights for understanding the nature of disability and advancing the development of intervention programs.

Keywords: Bayesian modeling; Williams syndrome; autism spectrum disorder; cross-syndrome comparison; emotion development; test of emotion comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / complications
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / psychology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Child
  • Comprehension
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Williams Syndrome* / complications
  • Williams Syndrome* / psychology