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Help on the spectrum

An autistic child interacts with his mother at the Wall Lab in Stanford, Calif. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Technology

Help on the spectrum

Could the Google Glass device benefit kids with autism?

Children with autism seemingly improved their social skills after using a wearable device that helped them recognize emotions in people’s facial expressions, according to new research.

In a pilot study in NPJ Digital Medicine in August, a team at the Stanford University School of Medicine developed a smartphone app and paired it with Google Glass to provide real-time cues to kids about facial expressions. The device, worn like a pair of glasses, has a camera that records the wearer’s field of view, as well as a small audio speaker. As the child interacts with other people, the camera captures those people’s facial expressions and the app identifies and names their emotions through the Google Glass speaker.

The study authors based the therapy on a well-studied autism treatment called applied behavior analysis, in which a trained practitioner teaches emotion recognition using flash card exercises.

“We have too few autism practitioners,” study senior author Dennis Wall, associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical data science, told Stanford Medicine News. “The only way to break through the problem is to create reliable, home-based treatment systems. It’s a really important unmet need.”

Handout

A screenshot of the app (Handout)

In the study, 14 families with autistic children used the Google Glass system for 10 weeks, with at least three 20-minute sessions per week. The researchers had the children use the system in three ways: free-play and two game modes. In the “guess my emotion” game, a parent acts out a facial expression associated with one of the eight core emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, neutral, and contempt. The child tries to identify the correct emotion. In “capture the smile,” the child gives someone clues about the emotion he wants to see expressed until the other person acts it out.

Of the 14 families involved in the study, six saw large enough declines in their child’s scores on the SRS-2 autism scale to move down one step in the severity of their autism classification. Twelve of the families reported their children made more eye contact after receiving the treatment.

“Parents said things like ‘A switch has been flipped; my child is looking at me.’ Or ‘Suddenly the teacher is telling me that my child is engaging in the classroom,’” said Wall after post-study parent interviews.

Although the pilot study did not use a control group, Wall thinks the findings are promising. His team is currently conducting a more comprehensive, randomized trial of the therapy, according to Stanford.

Comments

  • Laura W
    Posted: Wed, 09/05/2018 12:35 pm

    Wow, that sounds like a great use of technology.