Google Glass Could Help Kids With Autism Socialize With Peers

boy looking out window

Just when we thought Google Glass was a passing tech fad that never really reached its full potential, researchers suggest that the gadgetry could prove incredibly helpful for kids with autism.

Science News reports that there's an app using facial recognition technology that works in conjunction with Google Glass. It gives the person wearing the headset real-time updates on perceived emotions the people around them are showing. In a research trial, a group of kids on the autism spectrum used Google Glass with the app for 10 weeks. When the study was over, the participants reportedly showed an improvement in their social skills. This included more eye contact with those around them (if you are the parent of a child with autism you know this is huge) and also an improved "ability to decode facial expressions."

So how does the program work? The app alerts whoever is wearing the headset when another person is expressing an emotion -- think sadness, happiness, excitement, etc. It does so by displaying an emoticon on the screen or shares it verbally through the headset, which means the child doesn't even need to be old enough to read to use the program. Afterwards, parents and kids can review a video of the interaction together, reinforcing what was just learned.

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While many kids inherently learn how to read the emotions of others through social interaction, those with autism typically need to develop that skill with the assistance of behavioral therapy. Unfortunately, accessing this therapy can be difficult and wait lists are quite long.

The app comes out of Stanford University, the brainchild of biomedical data scientists specializing in pediatrics, built with the intention to make at-home, on-demand behavioral therapy accessible to kids with autism. It recognizes the following eight expressions: happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, contempt and calm.

google glass
Credit: iStock / martin-matthews

The research team is currently running more tests and experiments with the app. The hope is that if this form of therapy using Google Glass continues to do well, it will be cleared for use outside of the research environment.

If all of this isn't enough to get you excited about these potential breakthroughs for those with autism, consider this heart-tugging story. When Donji Cullenbine's 9-year-old son Alex participated in the program, he not only enjoyed the app, but also met her gaze more frequently. But the best part is what he told her after being made aware of the emotions of those around him: "Mommy, I can read minds." An exciting development for a kid who previously struggled to understand the expressions of others.

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