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Can an App Improve Social Skills for Children with ASD?

Posted On: 03-08-2019
Can an App Improve Social Skills for Children with ASD?
A small clinical trial published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that a smartphone app could help kids with autism reliably practice their social skills.

Autism affects about one in 59 children in the United States, and widely varies in terms of severity. Where one child could be unable to communicate, another could only have minor problems with communication and social interaction.

Behavioral therapy—specifically, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a common way to help kids with autism build their social skills. However, some kids have trouble taking what they’ve practiced in therapy and applying it to everyday interactions. Plus, families can find themselves on waitlists for receiving this therapy. By studying methods for practicing social skills at home, families can help to bridge those gaps.

The study enrolled 71 children ages 6 to 12. All of the children had autism and were in ABA therapy. Two groups were formed: one group continued with ABA therapy only, while the other group added digital therapy. This digital therapy consisted of a smartphone app linked to Google Glass.

With the app, when children wore the glasses, the app would encourage them to find facial expressions, focus on other’s faces, identify emotions, and more—all with visual feedback. The families were asked to use the app four times a week for 20 minutes. At the end of the six-week study, researchers found that the kids using the digital therapy made greater gains in some social abilities (according to parent questionnaires).

The accessibility of technology means that it could be a valuable resource for supporting behavioral therapy. However, more long-term research is needed to gauge the longevity of the social skills gains.

The smartphone app is not commercially available at the time of this study.

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