Kids With Autism See Social Skills Boost With Google Glass
New research suggests that technology developed by Google may be able to help unlock social abilities and lessen symptom severity in children with autism.
In a study published Thursday, researchers at Stanford University found that kids with autism made more eye contact and were better able to relate to others after participating in an at-home therapy that used Google Glass — essentially computerized eyeglasses equipped with a camera, small screen and speaker — in conjunction with a custom smartphone app.
The gains were seen after just one to three months of regular use, according to findings published in the journal npj Digital Medicine.
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For the study, 14 children with autism ages 3 to 17 participated in the therapy dubbed “Superpower Glass” for at least 20 minutes three times per week for an average of 10 weeks. They wore Google Glass devices that were connected to an app that relied on machine learning to recognize eight emotions — happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, neutral and contempt — based on facial expressions.
During interactions with family, the children received visual or audio cues from the technology about the emotions of those around them. In addition, the kids could practice guessing what different facial expressions mean and were able to try eliciting different emotions from others.
Parents completed questionnaires and interviews before and after their children took part in the therapy. Overall, they indicated that the technology was useful and fun and a dozen of the families reported that their kids showed more eye contact after being involved in the study.
Moreover, researchers said that the average score of children in the study on the Social Responsiveness Scale, a measure of social impairment and autism severity, went down 7.38 points during the treatment and that six of the participants saw the severity of their diagnosis decline from “severe” to “moderate” or “moderate” to “mild” or “mild” to “normal.”
Researchers acknowledged that the study was small and lacked a control group, but indicated that the findings are promising especially in light of the long waits children typically experience before accessing autism treatment.
“We have too few autism practitioners,” said Dennis Wall, an associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical data science at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a senior author of the study. “The only way to break through the problem is to create reliable, home-based treatment systems. It’s a really important unmet need.”
A larger, randomized trial is currently underway.