Penn and Lauren Turner, a postdoctoral research fellow, will begin studying SCIT with autistic adolescents this December. They hope to teach kids how to pick up on social cues.
"A lot of these kids really want to interact socially, they want friends," Turner said. "People with autism often respond well when they have visual examples rather than through auditory means. There are a lot of programs out there that are very similar -- what I liked about this program is that it is not just focusing on the skills themselves but social thinking, and understanding social situations better."
Penn is the first to acknowledge that more research is needed, and that the results of his prior studies could change with a larger randomized trial. But he's optimistic that these tools could help people express emotions, and live happier lives.
"This could be the seed of helping people develop empathy," he said.