Designer: Brian McDonald edt 502/Fall 2013


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Anime as a Tool for Social Skills Development for Young People on the Autism Spectrum

Instructor Guide

Designer: Brian McDonald EDT 502/Fall 2013
Table of Contents
Part 1: Introduction

Project Overview 1

Rationale 1

Intended Users 2

Length 2

Instructional Objectives 3

Organization 3

Materials 4

Unit Planning 4
Part 2: Lesson sequence

Preparation 7

Procedures 7
Part 1: Intro to Anime

1.1 What is anime? 9

1.2 Characteristics of anime 10

1.3 General guidelines for selecting anime 12
Activity 1: Anime 101___________________________13
Part 2: Anime and Social Skills

2.1 Social Skills development with anime 14
Activity 2: Facial Expressions 15
2.2 Emotionally expressive content 16

2.3 Social Skills development with anime fan culture 17

Activity 3: Aspects of Anime and Fan Culture 19

Part 3: Anime and Your Child (20 minutes)

3.1 Finding social skills opportunities 20
Assessment Activity: Creating a Personal Plan 21

3.2 Conclusion 22
Activities 23
Part 1: Introduction

Program Overview

Anime is an incredibly diverse art form that covers every possible genre of storytelling, and there are titles suitable for boys and girls, and every possible age range. Many young people on the Autism spectrum enjoy a variety of anime titles, and may parlay that into a social life via anime groups and conventions. Still, parents can sometimes be nervous that their child is “obsessed” with anime, and may know very little about it. Some parents may believe that “all anime is porn”. Parents sometimes try to drive their children away from these interests, feeling that the levels of obsession are unhealthy, or that the interest itself is wrong.

Autistic fans of anime have more opportunities for social growth, partly from the way anime is told and the themes it addresses, and partly from the rich social world that has grown up around anime. This course is designed to help parents understand that far from being a concern, anime can be used as a therapeutic tool for their child. The parents are frequently looking to incorporate socialization into their child's life, but may not be aware of the thriving culture of anime fandom, which has many people on the spectrum in its ranks.
Intended Users

This course is designed for parents and caregivers of children on the Autism Spectrum. If their child is not currently watching anime, the parent/caregiver may be completely unaware of anime as a medium, or may have absorbed through cultural osmosis some of the inaccurate stereotypes about anime. Children on the spectrum sometimes seem to obsess over their interests, so a parent with a child who IS watching anime may be confused or disturbed over their child's interests.

The parents who attend autism-related support and information groups tend to be mostly mothers. They tend to be lower- to middle-class, as people with more wealth are better able to use private-pay services that may be unavailable to less affluent parents. Parents' education levels will run the gamut from high school through post-secondary.
This program is designed to be taught over 60 to 90 minutes in one session. Approximately 15 minutes of that time should be devoted to the final activity of parents/caregivers planning how to adapt the lessons learned here to suit their child.

Instructional Objectives

  1. Given sets of characteristics, the learner will be able to identify characteristics of anime.

  1. The learner will be able to name 3 ways anime can be used to enhance social skills (e.g. facial expression recognition, exaggerated emotional content, exploration of differences social rules between fan and non-fan groups.)

  1. Given descriptions of anime and its associated fan culture, the learner will be able to identify aspects that can be used to enhance social skills and encourage desired social behaviors.

  1. Using knowledge gained in the course and other anime resources, the learner will be able to create a plan to introduce anime to their children as a tool for social skills development.


This module is divided into three parts:

  1. Introduction to anime, including styles and characteristics, and a range of the themes and genres available. (20-30 minutes)
  2. Ways in which anime can be used to model social skills and help with social functions like recognizing facial expressions. Talk about the growing anime fan subculture, and its potential use in social skills development. (20-30 minutes)

  3. For parents and caregivers whose children are already interested in anime, or who think it might be a possible tool for them to use with their children, plan ways in which it can be incorporated into their child's routines. (20-30 minutes)


  • Instructor Guide

  • Participant Guide

  • PowerPoint Presentation "Anime and Autism"

  • Pen/Pencils, scratch/note paper

Unit Planning

Part 1: Intro to Anime (20 minutes)

  1. What is anime?

    1. Brief history of anime

  • development

  • import into US

  • rise of “Japanimation” in the 80s

  • current explosion of titles in the US

  • fansubs

  • conventions

    1. Characteristics of anime

  • big eyes

  • exaggerated facial expressions

  • wide variety of subjects

  • aimed at every demographic

  • common stereotypes (“all anime is porn”, excessive violence)

    1. General guidelines for selecting anime

  • There is anime for everyone.

  • Not all anime is for everyone

  • There are titles lumped into gender-specific categories, shonen for boys and shoujo for girls, though there is no reason one can’t sample from both.

  • Anime ratings systems.

  • May use TV style, or age-specific ratings systems.

  • It’s still important to review content within appropriate groups.

Part 2: Anime and Social Skills (20 minutes)

  1. Social Skills development with anime

    1. Facial expressions are exaggerated

  • Limited animation required it.

  • Makes them easier to read..

  • Can be used to model appropriate expressions.

  • There are visual shortcuts used to indicate emotions.

    1. Emotionally expressive content.

  • Anime is not limited to stories for children, as western animation has tended to be.

  • Because it not limited by demographic or interest, storytellers are able to use more complex, emotional storytelling.

  1. Social Skills development with anime fan culture.

    1. Anime is increasingly popular amongst young people.

  • Anime viewing clubs.

  • Anime conventions.

    1. Anime fandom has its own rules of behavior, which can provide challenges for the autistic fan.

  • Anime fandom is VERY social, but it’s social engagement built around something they enjoy.

  • Anime conventions can be crowded and noisy, but autistic fans find methods of coping.

  • “Cosplay”, dressing up as favorite characters.

  • Anime fandom tends to blend into more traditional social media.

Part 3: Anime and Your Child (20 minutes)

  1. Finding social skills opportunities.

    1. Selecting new titles that may model some desired behaviors.

  • Setting goals, working hard, practicing, and other behaviors are frequently modeled in anime stories.

  • More realistic themed titles more closely models the real world

    1. Finding modeling behavior in titles already favored by the youth.

  • Accentuating the positive.

  • Separating learning opportunities from the theme.

Getting Started
Before you begin your lesson, please start the PowerPoint presentation “Anime_and_Autism.ppt” As you read through the content section, you'll see the “(Slide #X)” to indicate when you should transition slides in the presentation.

Part 2: Lesson Sequence

Since there will be some small-group discussion, you may want to arrange the small groups ahead of time. You will need to start the PowerPoint presentation at this point.
Before you begin: Introduction and “Intro to anime” video

Introduce the course and yourself.

Pass out the Participant Guilde and play intro video on slide 2. This is a short montage showing the history of anime from 1963 to 2001. It is not required, but provides a taste of the lesson to come.

(Slide #3)
Kyla McDonald is 21, and is on the autism spectrum. When Kyla was young, she enjoyed watching cartoons, especially a Japanese animated show called “Cardcaptor Sakura”. Sakura, the main character, was a normal schoolgirl who had to learn to harness the powers of magical cards to defeat and capture spirits. It was a well-made adventure, emotionally involved, with a positive message of strength against adversity.

Kyla had the typical autistic inability to discern subtle facial expressions, but it turned out that she did NOT have this problem when watching “Cardcaptor Sakura”, and other Japanese animated shows. She could read the faces, and correctly interpret them in context. Kyla has watched anime ever since, encouraged by her parents. It became an integral part of the family culture. Kyla had more traditional services, of course, but they continued to use anime to help her learn. Recently, Kyla attended SabotenCon, a three day long anime convention with over 3000 guests attending. She was there with friends, she had strategies in place for dealing with over-stimulation, and most importantly, she was successful and happy.

At the end of this course, you will have a basic understanding of what anime is, and how anime and the fan culture surrounding it can be used in social skills development, and we’ll see if there might be something in it that you can use for your kids specifically.

Part 1: Intro to Anime (20 minutes)

1.1 What is anime?
(Slide #4)

  • Anime in Japanese simply means “animation”. In that sense, all animation is “anime”. In the US, however, “anime” means animation created in Japan.

(Slide #5)

  • Japanese animation dates back to the early years of the 20th century. Examples have been found dating back to 1907. Many of them are lost or incomplete, as the animation reels were often cut up and the pieces sold to collectors.

(Slide #6)

  • In the 1930s, Disney was the biggest name in animation, and Japanese animation companies viewed them as both an influence and as rivals.

  • Through the 1930s and '40s, the Japanese government required works reflect national pride and strength. Many titles were sponsored by the military, including Japan's first feature-length work, “Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors”.

(Slide #7)

  • In the 1950s and '60s, Osamu Tezuka became one of the most influential creators of manga (Japanese comics) and animation. He was a huge fan of Disney’s animation, and he brought some of that art style into his work like “Kimba the White Lion” and “Astro Boy”, which were among the first Japanese titles to be imported into the United States.

(Slide #8)

  • In the 1970s, science fiction stories featuring people operating robots from the inside - "mecha" - became popular. Titles like "Science Ninja Gatchaman and "Space Battleship Yamato" were edited, dubbed into English, and shown in the US.

(Slide #9)

  • In the 1980s, anime was known as "Japanimation". One of the biggest titles in the US was "Robotech", which was actually three different series stitched together into a single storyline. As interest in anime increased, more and more titles became available the US.

(Slide #10)

  • Today, anime is a huge industry in the US. There are hundreds of different titles released, including science fiction, comedy, horror, romance, sports, and many other genres. currently has over 9000 DVDs for sale in their anime department.

  • Titles that haven't been released in the US may be put online as "fansubs", subtitled by English-speaking fans.

  • Anime clubs are springing up in high schools and colleges, and anime conventions are held all over the world.

1.2 Characteristics of anime
(Slide #11)

  • When talking about anime, it's impossible not to talk about the big eyes. If you ask anyone about anime, and they only know one thing, it's probably that. Anime characters do often have eyes larger than normal, though this is not universally true. This trend goes back to Osamu Tezuka, who thought that the eyes were the most expressive part of the face. Japanese animation uses less detail than Western animation, partly due to budget and production limitations. Having large, expressive eyes allows the animators to show a greater range of emotional display with limited animation in the eyes.

(Slide #12)

  • One odd and surprisingly complex characteristic of anime is the use of exaggerated facial expressions. Here, anime has borrowed not from Western animation, but from manga, Japanese comics. Manga tend to have a simpler, sketchier style than its Western counterparts. This has led to the development of exaggeration and iconography to convey emotion, including the sweat drop indicating embarrassment or nervousness, the cruciform vein throb showing anger, or the nose bleed to indicate lust.

(Slide #13)

  • Because anime is a medium, not a genre, it is not limited by any rules of what it should be. There is anime for every genre, from the toy commercial type of cartoon common in the west, to sports stories, romance, war, historical drama, and of course, giant robots. Pokemon, familiar to many parents as a Nintendo GameBoy game or trading card game, is also a long-running anime series.

(Slide #14)

  • Animation is starting to be recognized here in the US as not just for kids, but it is still mostly made for kids. In Japan, there is not this association between animation and children. This means that anime is not limited to a single demographic. There are titles aimed at nearly every age group, though children are still a major demographic. Many titles, while perhaps aimed at a particular demographic, are usually accessible to most viewers of an appropriate maturity level. One creator in particular, Hayao Miyazaki, is considered a master at creating animated movies that are suitable for the entire family.

(Slide #15)

  • Earlier, I said that if people only know one thing about anime, it's the big eyes. Sometimes, though, people have heard things about anime. We can't talk about anime without addressing these to some extent. There are some people who think that all anime is either grotesquely violent, freakishly sexual, or some combination of the two. However, the only sentence that starts with "All anime is..." and ends with an actual factual statement is "All anime is animated." Again, anime is a type of art, not a genre. This would be like saying "all movies are porn" because porn movies exist. This isn't to say that there isn't sex and violence in anime, of course, so it's important to choose wisely.

1.3 General guidelines for selecting anime
(Slide #16)

  • There is anime for everyone, but not all anime is for everyone. There is anime that is decidedly adult in nature, including sexually explicit titles. These titles are generally labeled "hentai", and may include explicit violence as well.

(Slide #17)

  • "Shonen" anime is collectively aimed at boys, and features a lot of action, and often a boy trying to be the best at something (sports, cooking, Pokemon training). "Shoujo" anime is aimed at girls, and tends to feature more emotionally complex storylines and characters. Some, like "Cardcaptor Sakura", show the character struggling to succeed at their role, as in Shonen titles. Shoujo titles tend to have a softer art style, with larger eyes prominently featured.

  • These are general categories, of course, and there's no reason why a child should have to choose one or the other.

(Slide #18)

  • There is no standard rating system used by anime companies when labeling their products. Some of them use the same style used by the motion picture companies: G, PG, PG-13, R. Some use the TV rating style: TV-Y7, TEEN, TV-PG, TV-MA with additional notes for language, sex, and violence. Some companies use an age-specific rating, like '13+' or '13 and up'. Whatever the rating is, it's important to review any anime before your family watches it. Ratings can be inconsistent, and what's labeled as "Rated R" and "17+" may have drastically different content.
  • Sites like Wikipedia, Anime News Network, and TV Tropes can give you more information about specific titles, or help you find titles. Amazon's customer ratings and recommendations can also be a great help.

Activity 1: Anime 101 Quiz

(Slide #19. When complete, answers are on Slide #20)
1. What is anime, as defined by US fans?

a. A type of graphic novel

b. Japanese monster movies

c. Japanese animated movies and TV shows

d. None of the above

Answer: C (“Anime” is all animation in Japan. In the US, it’s Japanese animation.)

2. True or False: Anime is a genre with strict rules

Answer: False (Anime is a medium, like cinema.)

3. True or False: Anime started in the 1980s with “mecha” shows.

Answer: False (Anime has existed since the early 20th century.)

4. Japanese animators have been influenced by

a. Disney cartoons

b. The Japanese government

c. Japanese comics

d. All of the above

Answer: D (The art style was influenced by Disney in the ‘30s and later in the ‘60s. The Japanese government influenced creators to make nationalistic animation during WW2. Manga (comics) has lent some of its art styles to anime)

5. True or False: Japanese animation is created for all ages and interests

Answer: True

6. “Shonen” and “Shoujo” describe what kind of anime?

a. anime for education and training

b. anime for businessmen

c. anime for boys and girls

d. none of the above

Answer: C (“Shonen” is anime for boys, and “Shoujo” is anime for girls, though either type can be watched by both boys and girls.)

7. True or False: Anime is for children, and all titles are approrpiate for all ages.

Answer: False (Anime titles are made for all age groups, including adults)

8. What rating system is used by animation companies?

a. Movie style: G, PG, PG-13, R

b. TV rating style: TV-Y7, TEEN, TV-PG, TV-MA

c. Age-specific style: 13+, 15 and Up

d. All of the above

Answer: D (There is no standardized rating system for anime.)

Part 2: Anime and Social Skills (20 minutes)

2.1 Social Skills development with anime
(Slide #21)

  • As we discussed earlier, facial expressions are exaggerated. Likewise, emotional expressions by anime characters also tend to be more exaggerated. We are used to more naturalistic acting in films, or silly overacting in animation for kids, but there is a precedent in western cinema for this. Acting in silent films was similarly exaggerated, also due to limitations in the medium, as they had to express emotions without words.

  • In each case, the end result is that the emotional expressions are broader, and so easier to read. This allows for different methods of modeling in a safe, consequence-free environment:

  1. The viewer is able to see the range of emotional responses and associated facial expressions.

  2. The viewer is able to associate those responses and facial expressions with the tone of voice used.

  3. If the viewer is able to read the subtitles as they watch, this allows them to read the dialogue associated with an emotional response. This may result in dual encoding, when text and visuals are learned together.

Activity 2: Facial Expressions

(Slide #22)

  • Have students turn to page 17 of the Participant Guilde. Split the class into small groups.
  • Students will identify emotional expressions, and write them in the space below each face. (When complete, answers on Slide 23)

  • This activity is adapted from Nancy Lorenz' “25 Essential Expressions Challenge”, and is used by artists to practice drawing these expressions. These are the labels used in the challenge.

  • Take a few minutes to discuss the activity with the class. How easy or diff
    icult did they find it?

(Slide #24)

  • There are many different types of anime styles. Watching different titles, with a variety of animation styles, will allow your child to use previously recognized emotional responses as prior knowledge. As they progress, introduce more realistic expressions, such as Hayao Miyazaki's films, or some of the newer titles, many of which downplay the large eyes and exaggerated emoting.

2.2 Emotionally expressive content.
(Slide #25)

  • Anime is not limited to stories for children, as western animation has tended to be. Because it not limited by demographic or interest, storytellers are able to use more complex, emotional storytelling.

  • Some examples:

  1. "Nana" - Nana Komatsu is a small-town girl who moves to Tokyo to follow her boyfriend. Nana Osaki is a punk singer who goes to Toyko to make it big. They become roomates, and the story follows their attempts to achieve their goals.

  2. "Monster" - Kenzō Tenma is a Japanese surgeon living in Germany, who unwittingly saves the life of a child who turns out to be a dangerous psychopath.
  3. "Genshiken" - A series about a college club for otaku (obsessed fans) and the lives of its members. This title is more comedic, but examines many aspects of fan culture, and explores the friendship of the diverse group.

  • There are lessons to be found in almost any anime title, but you may have to dig a bit to find them. The example of “Bleach” that was mentioned earlier is about a young man, Ichigo Kurosaki, who becomes a “Soul Reaper” by accident. The overall storyline involves Ichigo fighting evil spirits to defend humanity. However, because he comes to his power by accident, he doesn’t have much skill at first. So while your child is enjoying the action, you may also be reinforcing the fact that his success is due to hard work, or that he must frequently co-operate with other Soul Reapers to combat more powerful foes.

(Slide #26)

  • Much like the US has done with comic book adaptations, the Japanese have made live-action movie versions of many of its most popular anime series. Some, like the popular "Bleach" anime or the 70s-era "Gatchaman", are more escapist fare comparable to the summer blockbuster. Others, like the intricate sci-fi drama "20th Century Boys" or the live-action "Nana", attempt to tell more complex stories. For the development of social skills, it is now possible to follow the same characters in an animated context, and then transition to live-action versions of those characters interacting.

2.3 Social Skills development with anime fan culture.
(Slide #27)

  • Anime is increasingly popular amongst young people. There are anime clubs popping up in high schools and colleges, at comic book stores, and libraries.

  • Arizona has Phoenix ComicCon, currently the 7th largest convention in North America, and three dedicated anime conventions, Con-Nichiwa in Tucson, Saboten Con in Phoenix, and Taiyou Con in Tempe.
  • In 2009, Phoenix ComicCon had 9000 attendees. 2013's attendance was over 55000. Saboten Con, Arizona's largest anime convention, had over 4000 attendees in 2013.

(Slide #28)

  • Anime fandom has its own rules of behavior, which can provide challenges for the autistic fan.

  1. Anime fandom is VERY social. Kids who go to conventions often hang out with large groups of people. For an autistic person, this can sometimes be overwhelming, but there's a big difference between a convention and most other social situation: it’s social engagement built around something they enjoy. For kids who may obsess on this thing that they love, it can be a release to be among people who feel the same way.

  2. Anime conventions can be crowded and noisy. It's easy for the autistic person to get overstimulated. Autistic people who attend conventions find methods of coping. This may be as simple as going outside, away from the crowds, when overstimulation starts, or may involve groups of autistic young people pooling resources to get a hotel room at the convention site, which they can use as a safe, quiet space.

  3. Some people engage in “cosplay”, which is dressing up in costume as a favorite character. Some cosplayers construct their outfits from scratch, and take great pride in their craft. Cosplay groups are a subset of fandom, and may meet in smaller groups outside of the convention scene.

  4. Much of the recent growth in anime fandom has been among teens and young adults. This generation tends to live online, and the fandom is a big part of this. Anime fans create fan art, set scenes from their favorite animes to music (called "anime music videos", or "AMV") and talk about anime. There are anime fan communities on social networking sites like Facebook and Tumblr. This can provide additional opportunities for socialization, as well as building a network of friends who can help navigate conventions.

Activity 3: Aspects of Anime and Fan Culture

(Slide #29)
Students should turn to page 23 in their Participant Guilde to complete this activity. You may have people answer the activity individually, or arrange into small groups. (When complete, answers on Slide 30)
1. Name three aspects of anime & fan culture, and possible benefits to social skill development.

  • Aspect: ___________________________________________________________

  • Benefit: ___________________________________________________________

  • Aspect: ___________________________________________________________

  • Benefit: ___________________________________________________________

  • Aspect: ___________________________________________________________

  • Benefit: ___________________________________________________________

Possible answers: The following are aspects of anime/fan culture followed by their potential benefits. If you're grading, partial credit may be given for including one or the other, full credit for both.

  • Aspect: Exaggerated facial expressions.

    • Benefit: Easier to read and associate with the stated emotions.

  • Aspect: Emotions are exaggerated.

    • Benefit: Easier to identify.

  • Aspect: Anime fans behave differently in their social group than they do in other groups.

    • Benefits: The fan must learn to discern between different group roles.

  • Aspect: Anime gatherings can involve many people, which can be daunting for someone on the spectrum.
    • Benefit: They are more likely to attempt it because they value the experiences.

  • Aspect: Meet-ups can provide a safe space for socializing.

    • Benefit: Anime fans speak a common “language”, and enjoy enthusiastic sharing of interests

Part 3: Anime and Your Child (20 minutes)

3.1 Finding social skills opportunities.
(Slide #31)
We've come to the part of the course where you'll have a chance to think about how you can incorporate anime into your own child's social development. It's important to stress here that this is not meant to be a replacement for any services or therapies your child is already getting. Hopefully, if you find something that's right for your child, it can be a complementary tool for you to use.
(Slide #32)

  • If there are particular goals you're looking for, or particular behaviors you want to model, try to find titles that might help with that.

  1. Setting goals, working hard, practicing, and other behaviors are frequently modeled in anime stories. This is more common in anime for boys (shonen), but there are more anime for girls that also focus on acheivement.

  2. More realistic themed titles more closely model the real world. The fantasy and science fiction anime can be great fun, and there is a lot of emotional depth to be found there. But you may want to consider finding some anime (like "Nana" or "Genishiken") that are more grounded in the real world, as they may be more relatable.

  • Finding modeling behavior in titles already favored by the youth.
  1. Accentuate the positive aspects of anime that your child may already be watching, or may find on his or her own. Most anime have something that can be learned. For example, the "Pokemon" anime series is more commercially driven, and is primarily built around battling other Pokemon trainers. However, a closer look at stories show that there is a strong theme of trust, cooperation, and communication.

  2. Separating learning opportunities from the theme can be a challenge with some anime, but it's important that you try to do so as much as possible. Discuss the characters' motivations, rather than their actions.

Assessment Activity: Creating a Personal Plan

(Slide #33)
This activity can be done in small groups or individually. Participants should keep notes in their own Participant Guides, as they will be taking them home.
Because this activity synthesizes all of the information in the course, it serves as the final assessment for the course.
1. We have discussed the different types of anime that are available for viewing, the enormous variety of styles and themes, and the ways those things can be used to engage a young person on the spectrum in social thinking. If your child is already interested in anime, what do you think you might do to encourage social thinking as a goal of their watching anime?
2. If they do not currently watch anime, what do you think the best approach would be to introduce it?

3. What types of themes would your child enjoy most?

Possible Answers: This would be a short answer/essay question, which might be addressed in small groups, but will be particular to each parental group, as their child is going to have unique interests and challenges. As it is a summary of the course and a takeaway for the parent/caregiver to use in the future, it wouldn’t be graded with a “correct” answer. Instead, there would be an open discussion about answers. An answer could talk about the child’s interests (pirates, ninja, game-based), a plan to buy some titles, visit a library or video rental store, or search for titles on Netflix, appropriate limits to viewing, or a desire to seek out anime clubs and conventions.

In Conclusion...

(Slide #34)

Anime can be great fun. The visual language is easy to pick up, the stories are engaging, and there's something for every interest. Just be aware, and be actively engaged in looking for appropriate content for your child.
Resources have been provided in your Participant Guide. Much of the information here was gathered from Wikipedia,, an other internet sources.
Thank you for your participation.

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