In a new pilot study conducted by researchers at Stanford University, Google Glass paired up with a smartphone app helps children with autism improve their social skills by assisting them in learning to recognise the variety of thoughts and emotions behind facial expressions.
The intervention (called ‘Superpower Glass’ to appeal to children), described in a paper published online in the journal npj Digital Medicine on 2 August 2018, provides autistic children with real-time information – either visually or through audio – on the meaning behind facial expressions.
After only one to three months of use, parents reported their children to engage in eye contact more often than prior to the study, and relate to other people better overall.
This could be real life-saver to parents, as many have to wait for therapy for up to 18 months – thereby reducing its subsequent effectiveness – following diagnosis due to a shortage of trained medical professionals working in the field.
“The only way to break through the problem is to create reliable, home-based treatment systems. It’s a really important unmet need,” said lead author on the study Dennis Wall, PhD, who’s an Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Biomedical Data Science.
The app was built around eight core expressions – happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, neutral and contempt – thanks to a machine-learning algorithm trained on hundreds of thousands of photos which contain them.
All of the 14 families involved in the study, which required them to use the Google Glass-app combination for at least 20 minutes three times per week, reported noticeable improvements, which have later been verified by assessing the data provided by parents in questionnaires they filled out prior to and after the study.
“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.’ It was really heart-warming and super-encouraging for us to hear,” said Wall.
Every child in the study was found to have improved by several points on the SRS-2 scale: four from “severe” to “moderate”, one from “moderate” to “mild”, and one from “mild” to “normal”.
The researchers now plan to patent the technology and conduct larger, randomised trials to make sure the intervention works as intended.