Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) experience difficulties communicating their own emotions and recognizing the emotions of others. These difficulties appear in different modalities, including facial expressions, vocal intonation, and body language. Such deficits may hamper the social functioning of children with ASC and increase their exclusion.
Alongside these difficulties, individuals with ASC tend to have intact and sometimes superior abilities to comprehend and manipulate closed, rule-based, predictable systems, such as computerized environments, and may better learn from them than from non-structured settings. Computerized environments can produce simplified versions of the socio-emotional world, reduce sensory stimulation, support a featured-based learning style of socio-emotional cues, and introduce cues separately in each perceptual channel. Harnessing these qualities for the sake of emotion recognition and expression training, children with ASC may be more motivated to learn about the emotion world through virtual computerized environments.
The ASC-Inclusion system is a virtual world that uses various educational and entertaining means to teach children with ASC to recognize 20 different emotions and express them through facial expressions, vocal intonation, body language and contextual information. The software is being developed by a consortium of leading organizations as part of a research project funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007- 2013).
Training is performed through highly engaging elements, aimed at enhancing the child's motivation, including games, animation, video and audio clips, rewards, a child's avatar, and communication with smart agents and peers.
The system combines several state-of-the art technologies in one comprehensive environment, including computerized analysis of users’ gestures, facial and vocal expressions, using a standard microphone and webcam. It is planned to be available for home or school use, and as an aid to therapists. Caregivers will be offered their own supportive environment, including professional information, reports of child’s progress and use of the system and forums for parents and therapists. Based on the internet, it will allow families from wider and less privileged environments to benefit from professional training.
The system's creation is supported by panels of families for children with ASC, and by panels of professionals, in Israel, Sweden and the UK, that contribute to an iterative process of development and evaluation.
The current presentation will demonstrate the system at its current stage of development, including its virtual world and emotion recognition training in the different modalities.
The environment, tutorials and games presented have been evaluated and approved by our panels of families and professionals.
The ASC-Inclusion project offers children with ASC and their families the benefit of state of the art educational technology for enhancement of their socio-emotional communication repertoire. A multi-site randomized controlled trial will be carried out upon completion of the system's development.