Researchers say they have more evidence that an at-home intervention using Google Glass boosts socialization and learning in kids with autism.

A study looking at 71 children on the spectrum ages 6 to 12 found that those who used Google Glass in addition to participating in applied behavior analysis, or ABA, therapy saw greater gains than children who received ABA alone.

Worn like eyeglasses, Google Glass has a camera, a small screen and speakers and it works wirelessly in conjunction with a smartphone. For the study, kids with autism used an app that could detect eight emotions — happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, disgusted, contempt and neutral — in those around them.

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“The system acts as a true augmentation to their reality, keeping them in their natural social world, as opposed to taking them out of it,” said Dennis Wall of Stanford University Medical School who led the study published recently in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. “In contrast to virtual or mixed reality, augmented reality is potentially a powerful vehicle through which we can teach children social skills to rescue some of these deficits early in their development.”

All of the children in the study were assessed at the outset and then participated in clinic-based ABA therapy sessions. In addition, 40 of the kids were given Google Glass to use 20 minutes four times each week over the course of six weeks.

Children using Google Glass received spoken or visual prompts from the device to help them decipher the emotions of others in their view. Or, they could play games designed to have them elicit certain emotions from others or guess what particular facial expressions meant.

Once the six-week period concluded, researchers rechecked all of the children using a standard socialization scale. They found that the kids who used Google Glass scored better than the children who only took part in ABA therapy.

“This is based on a statistically rigorous approach to the analysis of the data,” Wall said. “While the overall effect is modest, the positive change seen in the treated children is significant and points to a new direction that could help more children get the care they need, when they need it.”

Google Glass is intended to be a short-term aide to help children learn skills that they can then apply independently, Wall said.

The latest study expands on findings released last year from a smaller trial of the approach. The researchers are already working to do a larger study to further confirm their findings.

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