Digital worlds can help autistic children to develop social skills

The benefits of virtual worlds can be used to help autistic children develop social skills beyond their anticipated levels, suggest early findings from new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Researchers on the Echoes Project have developed an interactive environment which uses multi-touch screen technology where virtual characters on the screener act to children's actions in real time.

During sessions in the , primary school children experiment with different social scenarios, allowing the researchers to compare their reactions with those they display in real-world situations.

"Discussions of the data with teachers suggest a fascinating possibility," said project leader Dr Kaska Porayska-Pomsta." such as Echoes may allow some children to exceed their potential, behaving and achieving in ways that even teachers who knew them well could not have anticipated."

"A teacher observing a child interacting in such a virtual environment may gain access to a range of from individual children that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to observe in a classroom," she added.

Early indications of this research are that over a number of sessions some children demonstrate a better quality of interaction within the virtual environment and an increased ability to manage their own behaviour, enabling them to concentrate on following a virtual character's gaze or to focus on a pointing gesture, thus developing the skills vital for good communication and effective learning.

The findings could prove particularly useful in helping children with autism to develop skills they normally find difficult. Dr Porayska-Pomsta said: "Since have a particular affinity with computers, our research shows it may be possible to use digital technology to help develop their social skills."

"The beauty of it is that there are no real-world consequences, so children can afford to experiment with different social scenarios without real-world risks," she added.

The findings from the Echoes Project will showcase technologies for autism during an event in Birmingham which is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science in November.The event will involve pupils, parents and teachers. Participants will be given the opportunity to engage in hands-on experiences, workshops and discussion.

"In the longer term, virtual platforms such as the ones developed in the Echoes project could help young children to realise their potential in new and unexpected ways," concluded Dr Porayska-Pomsta.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Children with autism may learn from 'virtual peers'

Feb 29, 2008

Using “virtual peers” -- animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children -- Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed ...

Virtual reality teaches autistic children street crossing

Jan 28, 2008

Recent research conducted at the University of Haifa found that children with autism improved their road safety skills after practicing with a unique virtual reality system. "Children with autism rarely have opportunities ...

Robots to help children to form relationships

May 29, 2007

A project which is using robots to help children with developmental or cognitive impairments to interact more effectively has just started at the University of Hertfordshire.

Recommended for you

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

30 minutes ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

36 minutes ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.