Findings from a new study suggest that technology developed by Google can improve the social skills in children with Autism, unlocking social abilities and lessening the severity of the symptoms. The study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine paired a smartphone app with Google Glass to help kids with Autism understand emotions conveyed in people’s facial expressions (News Center, 2018).
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that can cause a complex range of behavioural symptoms and may be mild, moderate or severe. The main features of autism are difficulty in social interactions and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. Children or adults with autism may be highly intelligent, of normal intelligence or have learning difficulties (Healthdirect.gov.au, 2018).
About one in 200 Australians are affected by autism, and the large majority are boys at over 80% of cases (Healthdirect.gov.au, 2018).
The Study and the Superpower Glass
Standford University School of Medicine recognised the available therapies for children with autism are “time-intensive and overdependent on specialists” (Daniels et al., 2018). They also recognised the waitlists for these therapies can mean waiting over 18 months. To address these complications, Stanford University School of Medicine developed a Superpower Glass, a machine-learning-assisted software system that runs on Google Glass and an Android smartphone, designed for use during social interactions (Daniels et al., 2018).
The Superpower Glass was supplied to 14 families in the United States and assessed any changes in the children with autism from intake to conclusion through the Social Responsiveness Scale, a facial affect recognition task and qualitative parent reports. The children in the study were aged between 3 and 17 years. The study required families to complete three or more sessions with Superpower Glass per week, for 20 minutes per session.
The Android app and Superpower glass in the study recognised eight emotions:
- Contempt (named “meh” in child-friendly terms)
(Daniels et al., 2018).
The Superpower Glass, linked to a smartphone app, consists of a glasses-like frame equipped with a camera to record the wearer’s field of view, as well as a small screen and a speaker to give the wearer visual and audio information. As the child interacts with others, the app identifies and names their emotions through the Google Glass speaker or screen (News Center, 2018).
The treatment could help fill a major gap in autism care as people can be waiting for specialists and proper care.
Results of the Study
The study found an increase in social awareness, social cognition and social motivation and a decrease in autistic mannerisms for the children. Communication however didn’t improve for every participant.
Twelve of the 14 families said that they observed an increase in eye contact throughout the study. This could assist in developing the children’s social skills and could be an important treatment method.
Although a range of traditional treatments can assist children with autism, they have limitations, and need to be delivered one-on-one with trained therapists. This new technology was sent home to families, named Superpower Glass to help make it appealing to children, encouraging families to engage with what they’re learning and transfer it to their daily lives.
Families told the researchers that the system was engaging, useful and fun. Kids were willing to wear the Google Glass, and the devices withstood the wear and tear of being used by children (News Center, 2018).
A larger, randomised trial of the therapy is currently underway.
If you’d like to learn more about the interface of the app and Superpower Glass, and the people involved in the study, take a look at the autism glass Stanford study website.
Daniels, J., Schwartz, J., Voss, C., Haber, N., Fazel, A., Kline, A., Washington, P., Feinstein, C., Winograd, T. and Wall, D. (2018). Exploratory study examining the at-home feasibility of a wearable tool for social-affective learning in children with autism. npj Digital Medicine, 1(1).
Healthdirect.gov.au. (2018). Autism. [online] Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/autism [Accessed 7 Aug. 2018].
News Center. (2018). Google Glass helps kids with autism read facial expressions. [online] Available at: http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/08/google-glass-helps-kids-with-autism-read-facial-expressions.html [Accessed 7 Aug. 2018].