International Meeting for Autism Research: A Mobile Social Compass

A Mobile Social Compass

Friday, May 21, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
9:00 AM
M. Tentori , Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine (UCI), Irvine, CA
L. Boyd , Selpa, North Orange County Special Education Local Plan Area, Fullerton, CA
G. R. Hayes , Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA
Background:  Social Stories can be tools for teaching social skills to children with autism. They can increase understanding of and suggest appropriate responses to confusing situations. Story-based interventions allow teachers to go beyond teaching basic social skills and include issues related to how the situational context can change in an ongoing social interaction. Social Compass is an intervention package that uses stories and visual cues that, like a compass, serve to “steer the child in the right direction”. For instance, in one lesson, children practice how to determine the appropriate distance between them and other people. The visual cue for this lesson is a compass that draws concentric circles to represent the relationship of a child with another person distinguishing from strangers and friends. The success of this therapy lies in how the children might use the newly learned skills outside the classroom. However, there is currently limited support for this kind of mobile, dynamic instruction. Thus, we have designed and developed innovative computing technologies to empower the Social Compass curriculum outside classrooms.

Objectives: Design and implement a mobile social compass to provide through augmented reality technology social cues to help children with autism (CWA) improve social interaction skills. 

Methods:  For five weeks, we video recorded fourteen CWA to understand the problems they faced when interacting with others. Researchers recorded each child during recess, lunch, or while attending classes for an average of fifteen minutes per day. We also conducted interviews with three of their teachers and a focus group with the immediate social network of the children. Finally, following a user-centered approach, we developed design requirements and scenarios that were later used to iteratively develop the Mobile Social Compass system.

Results: We found out that shared interests of children and how close they are from each other could be used to guide them to maintain appropriate personal space, instant reply and determine to whom interact with. The Mobile Social Compass is a SmartPhone augmented reality application that leverages this relationship to provide children with social cues to help them initiate social interactions, keep them engaged when appropriate, and end interactions smoothly. For example, after learning to use the compass metaphor and symbols in therapy, a child who likes to play chess might consult his Mobile Social Compass and find friends who are currently playing chess. This information is highlighted in the child's application through the compass visual cue. When he approaches the children playing chess, the system gives him social cues to help him start an interaction. Through this new system, we also enable new ways of keeping records by automatically logging all interactions with the system, which can enable tracking of progress and understanding of the impact of the social compass interventions outside classrooms. 

Conclusions: We have designed and developed a mobile system to help CWA improve their social skills outside classrooms. This system augments an existing successful curriculum, called the social compass. We will evaluate this system during summer school to explore its impact on current practices.