ASC-Inclusion – a Virtual World Teaching Children with ASC about Emotions

Friday, May 15, 2015: 10:00 AM-1:30 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
S. Newman1, O. Golan2, S. Baron-Cohen3, S. Bolte4, A. Rynkiewicz5, A. Baranger6, B. Schuller7, P. Robinson8, A. Camurri9, M. Sezgin10, N. Meir-Goren1, S. Tal2, S. Fridenson-Hayo2, A. Lassalle3, S. Berggren4, N. Sullings6, D. Pigat3, K. Ptaszek5, E. Marchi7, S. Piana9 and T. Baltrusaitis8, (1)Compedia, Ramat-Gan, Israel, (2)Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, (3)Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (4)Center of neurodevelopmental disorders, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (5)Spectrum ASC-Med, Gdansk, Poland, (6)Autism Europe, Brussels, Belgium, (7)Institute for Human-Machine Communication, Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany, (8)Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (9)University of Genova, Genova, Italy, (10)Department of Computer Engineering, Koç University, Istanbul,, Turkey
Background: 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, and support a featured-based learning style of socio-emotional cues, gradually integrating them into a holistic picture. 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.

Objectives: To demonstrate the up to date status of the ASC-Inclusion project, as well as a summary of open trials of the system, conducted so far.

Methods: The program is embedded in a virtual world and includes 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. Two additional features were added this year, addressing parent-child collaborative use of the system, and computer's formative assessment of feedback to users. When complete, the system is planned to be available for home or school use, and as an aid to therapists.An iterative process of testing, feedback and evaluation supports the system's development. So far, the system has versions in four different languages: English, Hebrew, Swedish, and Polish.

Results: The current presentation will demonstrate:

1. The system at its open trial evaluation status: its virtual world and emotion recognition training in the different modalities, as well as the expression training components, using the above technologies for analysis and feedback on the children's' performance. The environment, tutorials and games presented have been evaluated and approved by our panels of families and professionals.

2. Preliminary results of the open trials conducted with 30 children per site in the UK, Israel, Sweden, and Poland.

Conclusions: 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 evaluation of the project is in process and preliminary results will be presented.