Google Glass and machine learning may help solve at least one issue associated with current methods of social-affective learning for children with the autism spectrum disorder, according to a new research study. Namely, children with ASD generally have difficulty making eye contact during social situations and learning to recognize emotions from facial expressions. While intensive behavioral therapy conducted by specialists can be effective, it is most effective when started at an early age and is very time-intensive. As a result, waiting times and availability present challenges to parents and treatment is often delayed. The new study, published in the journal 'npj Digital Medicine' and titled 'Exploratory study examining the at-home feasibility of a wearable tool for social-affective learning in children with autism,' looks for a solution to that issue. By utilizing machine learning-enabled software called Superpower Glass, a team of ten Stanford University researchers hoped to show that AR might be a viable supplement to that therapy. In short, it might allow treatment to be started at home without the need to schedule intensive and frequent sessions with a specialist and without delaying treatment until the opportunity to set behavior has passed.
The software in question gets around the need for a specialist by essentially taking on the role ordinarily filled by a behavioral therapist. It runs on both Google Glass and an Android smartphone and utilizes machine learning to examine and identify the emotional expressions of the individual the wearer is interacting with. The wearer, in this case, is a child with ASD. After identifying the emotional state of that person, it relays a visual cue to the child, providing them with insight into how that person feels. Audio cues are also provided in order to reinforce recognition of the perceived emotion. A total of 14 families took part in the study, using Superpower Glass at home for an average of 72 days with results being reported to and analyzed by the researchers. Approximately 86-percent of the study group reported increases in eye contact during social interactions following the use of Superpower Glass.
Those preliminary results certainly show promise but there is a long way to go before Google Glass and software can replace professional therapists. To begin with, no control groups were used in this study and eye contact seems to be the standard by which a conclusion of success was reached. That doesn't necessarily address whether or not the solution is on par with traditional methods in terms of helping ASD-affected children recognize and respond appropriately to the emotional state of others. However, it does provide insights that will be useful in generating further tests moving forward. At very least, the study may hint at the viability of the technology as a supplement to offset the limited availability of behavioral specialists.