Innovative Technology for Mapping Social Engagement in Children with Autism: Adaptive Physiological Profiling in Real Time
Social communication and social information are thought to represent core domains of impairment in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The impact on the individual, the family and society associated with these vulnerabilities is enormous. A better understanding of the biological and physiological mechanisms underlying these symptoms is needed, together with the creation of research tools that can be used to create optimal intervention strategies. This study is designed to promote the development and validation of an innovative technological approach for understanding the physiological aspects of social communication in children with ASD and developing an intervention tool. The research program brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in clinical research, engineering and computer science. The primary aim is to use cutting-edge knowledge to develop a system to augment human-computer interactions in interventions with children with ASD. It will do this by making a Virtual Reality system capable of recognizing and responding to behavioral cues of the child based on his/her physiological responses. The type of physiological signals that will be measured include heart rate, skin responses (linked to sweat gland activity), muscle tension and body temperature. These responses are in fact signals about emotional states such as anxiety, task liking and task involvement. Measuring these physiological signals will enable the selection and adaptation of Virtual Reality social interaction scenarios and define the environment that the child with ASD feels most comfortable interacting with. What this means for people with autism: Research suggests that people's interactions with computers are typically social and natural and parallel natural settings. A Virtual Reality system, in which environments can be controlled or changed, can allow role play in a setting designed to mimic the real world. This holds potential for children with ASD and may be used to facilitate social and behavioral interventions.