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  • Dr. Azadeh Kushki and team develop new techno...
  • October 13, 2017

    Dr. Azadeh Kushki and team develop new technology to build social confidence in kids with ASD

    Many children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience challenges with social communication. To promote and support social interaction in individuals with ASD, Dr. Azadeh Kushki, scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and team have developed Holli – a technology-aided intervention for kids and youth with ASD that uses human-to-human social coaching. Her study was recently published in Frontiers of Robotics and AI.

    “This research study showed that children with ASD can use these types of wearable technologies and enjoy interacting with them,” says Dr. Kushki. “This is important because these technologies can help us take treatment concepts out of therapeutic settings and integrate them into daily life.”

    Holli, developed in collaboration with Dr. Kushki’s team at Holland Bloorview’s research institute, is a prototype software application that runs on the Google Glass – a head-mounted display in the shape of eyeglasses. The wearable system can listen to conversations and prompt the user with an appropriate response. For example, if a child is greeted by someone who says ‘Welcome’, Holli will provide various responses to choose from, such as ‘Hey’, ‘Hello’ or ‘Afternoon’. When the child responds with one of these options, prompts disappears and Holli begins to listen for the next turn in conversation. The prototype can even predict what the user is saying before they finish saying it, which leads to a more natural flow of conversation.

    Even though the therapeutic potential of Holli is enormous, Dr. Kushki stresses that it is not a substitute for human intervention as it is complimentary to it.

    “We don’t think this will ever replace human-to-human intervention,” says Dr. Kushki, “However, Holli offers new ways of reinforcing treatment concepts in everyday settings. This can ultimately help improve treatment effectiveness and help kids generalize the skills they learn to everyday situations.”

    In Dr. Kushki’s research study, 15 kids with ASD took part in 10 mock-restaurant interactions using Holli. All of the participants successfully completed the 10-turn exchange and enjoyed the conversation prompts. They also found the Google Glass comfortable to wear and the app easy to use.  

    “The results are exciting and promising. Current one-to-one interventions are very resource-intensive and require many hours,” says Dr. Kushki. “This type of technology reduces some of this demand and can lead to new ways of promoting and supporting human-to-human interaction in individuals with ASD.”

    Affecting 1 in 68 people, ASD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairment in social skills – this means that many kids and adults with ASD have difficulties starting and maintaining conversations with others. With her new research, Dr. Kushki and team aim to support and empower kids and youth with ASD.

    For more information on the Autism Research Centre at Holland Bloorview, visit www.research.hollandbloorview.ca/researchcentreslabs/autismresearchcentre.

    To learn more about Holli, check out our blog post on BLOOM.

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