Therapy of the Future: How Google Glass is Helping Children with Autism


Joy is conveyed with a glowing smile. Anger with a fiery scowl. Sadness with a morose frown. Humans are adept at associating emotions with specific facial expressions; our ability to make such connections enables us to visually analyze the emotional state of those around us. For millions of children living with autism, this recognition of visual emotions is not an easy task.

Due to the increase in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, behavioral therapists across the country are having difficulty assisting the amount of children struggling with facial recognition. Since early intervention is key to improving these cognitive skills, parents may look for alternative therapies to help their child in the meantime. Supported by researchers at Stanford University, the Autism Glass Project “uses facial recognition software and runs on Google Glass [to] read facial expressions and gives the user cues as to what emotion they are seeing” (Pettitt, 2016). Children wear the headset like traditional glasses, and the outward-facing camera provides a one-of-a-kind interactive learning experience. The Google Glass headset allows children to receive this therapy in their own homes.

“Kids with autism struggle to understand what faces are telling them, so they must be taught,” says Dennis Wall, the Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Biomedical Data Sciences at Stanford Medical School (Pettitt, 2016). Wall acknowledges that while clinical intervention programs (such as applied behavior analysis) benefit children, the number of individuals trained to perform these clinical intervention programs is far fewer than the amount of children with autism. To help close the gap between trained professionals and affected children, take-home therapies such as those of the Autism Glass Project are needed.

After a successful pilot study involving forty children, the Stanford research is entering a second phase. Much like its initial research, the new 100-person at-home study will look at “the long-term behavioral progression” of 80 children with ASDs, and 20 children without ASDs over a four-month period (“Autism”, 2015). Participants will be between the ages of 6-16 years old.  

Google originally donated 35 Google Glass headsets to Stanford specifically for the Autism Glass Project (Pettitt, 2016), but the hardware was discontinued in 2015. It is unknown if the company will produce additional headsets for the project, but it is possible that the software could be used with another augmented reality hardware in the future.

The Autism Glass project software is currently programmed to read the emotions of a specific person’s face. As the study progresses, the research team at Stanford hopes to improve this technology so that it can translate the facial expressions of anyone within view (Reese, 2016).

While the technology involved in the Autism Glass Project is undoubtedly impressive on its own, it is the at-home nature of the therapy that is truly astounding. With waiting lists to see a behavioral therapists stretching for months, even years for some, the Autism Glass Project provides a highly desired alternative. The combination of the interactive software and the comfort of being in the child’s own home could prove to be revolutionary, allowing for a unique therapeutic session in a comfortable, familiar environment.

The Autism Glass Project is a prime example of using technological advances to further medical research. The software involved in the project is a development only dreamt by researchers just a decade ago, and now it is impacting the real lives of children with ASDs.

For more information about the Autism Glass Project, click here.

References:

Autism Glass Project. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

Pettitt, Jeniece. “A New Use for Google Glass: Helping Children with Autism Understand Emotion.” CNBC. CNBC, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

Reese, Olivia. “Autism And Google Glass: Augmented Reality Headwear Teaches Autistic People To Read Social Cues & Emotions.” Parent Herald RSS. N.p., 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.


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