An Authorable Virtual Peer for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulties with communication and reciprocal social interaction skills (for example difficulties in being able to have a friend or engaging in interactive conversations). In her previous research, Professor Cassell developed a technology called ‘Virtual Peers' - life-size 3D animated characters that look like children and are capable of interacting, sharing real toys, and responding to children's input. For typically developing children, Professor Cassell showed that ‘Virtual Peers' can help increase children's emerging literacy and social behaviors and real life social interactions. So under Professor Cassell's guidance, Dr Leventhal plans to design and evaluate a computer system that allows children with ASD to interact with a life-size ‘Authorable Virtual Peer'. This computer system will test children with ASD to determine whether engaging them on narrative task with a ‘virtual partner' (whom they themselves can program) can, for example, help practice taking turns, and whether the children through creating and controlling how the virtual peer communicates, will develop a better understanding of putting together their own communications and reciprocal social interactions. What this means to individuals with autism: The study may provide important information about the underlying mechanisms of communication and social reciprocity in ASD and provide an innovative intervention.