Toronto: An app to be used with wearable technology such as Google Glass — a head-mounted display in the shape of eyeglasses — can coach children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in everyday social interactions, new research has found.
A defining feature of ASD is difficulties with social communication — which can include initiating and maintaining conversations with others.
“We developed software for a wearable system that helps coach children with autism spectrum disorder in everyday social interactions,” said Azadeh Kushki, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada.
“In this study, we show that children are able to use this new technology and they enjoy interacting with it,” Kushki added.
Children with autism spectrum disorder are often drawn to technological devices and find them highly motivating tools for delivering interventions designed to help them.
The problem with existing technology, however, is that using human-to-computer interaction to teach social skills can have the opposite effect to its goal, in that the user becomes socially isolated.
“The interesting thing about our new technology is that we are not trying to replace human-to-human interactions; instead, we use this app to coach children who are communicating with people in real-world situations,” Kushki explained.
“Children can practice their skills outside of their normal therapy sessions and it can provide them with increased independence in everyday interactions,” Kushki added.
Kushki and her colleagues developed the app, named Holli, to be used with wearable technology such as Google Glass. It listens to conversations and prompts the user with an appropriate reply.
For example, if the user is greeted by a person who says ‘Welcome’, Holli will provide various responses to choose from, such as ‘Hey’, ‘Hello’ or ‘Afternoon’.
When Holli recognises the user’s response, the prompts disappear and Holli waits for the next exchange in conversation.
To assess the usability of the prototype software, the researchers asked a small group of children with ASD to be guided by Holli when interacting socially.
They saw that Holli could complete most conversations without error, and that children could follow the prompts to carry on a social interaction.
In fact, Holli was often able to understand what the user was saying before/he she finished saying it, which helped the conversation to flow naturally, the study said.
“This study shows the potential of technology-based intervention to help children with ASD,” Kushki said.
“These systems can be used in everyday settings, such as home and school, to reinforce techniques learned in therapeutic settings,” she added.