Technology is transforming the way we do everything, from how we work (increasingly remotely) to how we drive (increasingly, well, less, as our cars adapt to do more and more of the work for us) and how we manage our health (in more ways than it would even be possible to list). It’s no surprise then, that technology is also transforming the way we treat and manage autism. Here are just some of the ways that autism treatment and Applied Behavior Analysis therapy are being advanced by recent developments in tech.
Google Glass is helping kids with ASD “see emotion” through augmented reality
Google Glass, Google’s wearable augmented reality headset, is paving the way for some life-changing developments for kids on the autism spectrum. A new assistive technology turns the headset into what the kids with ASD who’ve had the chance to test the technology dubbed “Superpower Glass.” Basically the way it works is like this: While a kid with ASD is wearing the headset, the outward-facing camera scans their field of vision for faces. If it recognizes one, it reads the face for emotional cues and then queues up an emoji that corresponds to the emotion it detects on the person’s face. This means that, if a person seems frustrated or angry, for example, the child wearing the headset would see an “angry face” emoji pop up on their screen. This can help children (or adults, for that matter) who struggle to pick up on facial cues be aware of—and more appropriately respond to—the emotional responses of those around them. The in-app review function of the tech will also give parents, caregivers, and even therapists a chance to review footage of how their child sees the world after the fact to aid in the child’s treatment plan.
Scientists are looking at ways to use virtual reality to train emotional and social skills in children with autism spectrum disorder
Augmented reality isn’t the only way that computer-generated (or even just assisted) views of the world can help kids with ASD. In one recent study from the Centre for Innovative Applications of Internet and Multimedia Technologies (AIMTech Centre) at City University of Hong Kong, researchers developed a VR-enabled training program to look into how effective it was as helping develop emotional and social skills using six VR scenarios that depicted the daily lives of typical kids in Hong Kong. The results of the research were promising and suggested that VR could be used to help kids with ASD develop social and emotional skills.
Robots are helping to teach kids with ASD social skills and helping keep them focused during therapy
AI and even robotics could play a big role in the future of autism therapy. In a study published in Science Robotics a team of researchers at the University of Southern California had autistic children interact with a robot during therapy and training activities. Then, the scientists used a machine-learning model that used audio and video data (by tracking things like eye contact) to predict how engaged the child was during the activity in question. Even cooler? If the child wasn’t engaged, the robot could react to that and help reengage them, which could allow kids with ASD to focus on therapy for longer periods of time. The researchers found that they were able to predict a child’s engagement with 90 percent accuracy, which is impressive and bodes well for the technology’s future applications.