It is often stated that the latest and greatest consumer electronics have quickly eroded our social skills. While that may be true, these devices can have the opposite effect on children with autism by providing new ways to effectively teach social skills.
Technology is increasing by leaps and bounds, and more manufacturers understand that there is a market for people with autism, specifically parents. As this field develops, I hope that more parents and decision makers rely on the scientific method to determine whether these technologies can empirically show learning and growth across a spectrum of individuals.
At this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a number of companies displayed new technologies not specifically designed for people with autism, but whose advanced capabilities could be applied to help treat people with these special needs. These include:
nabi2: Many children know their way around an iPad, but for children with autism its often difficult to regulate how much time they spend with electronics. The tablet has an integrated learning system that creates a learning environment surrounding technology. For those children who become fixated on just one game or one item, the nabis "Chore List" and "Treasure Box" integrate incentives into a childs playtime. The nabi2 uses a basic token system in which predetermined chores are set and can be exchanged for new games or apps once completed. Also, the tablet incorporates strict parental controls that allow parents to use a timer that prompts children to hand the tablet over to a parent or sibling after x amount of minutes. This is great for teaching appropriate sharing and playing behavior. An added benefit: For every nabi2 that is purchased, one tablet will be donated to a family with a child with autism through the HollyRod Foundation.
NeuroSky: NeuroSky showcased "Focus Pocus," an interactive game that is controlled by player brainwaves. This product was originally designed to help children with concentration problems to improve their impulse control, attention span and memory, but this game soon became popular with adults as well. Although research has been limited on the use of neurofeedback for children with autism, the device utilizes EEG software known as a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to read brain wave states, electrophysiological activity or metabolic rate. Research has shown that neurofeedback can be effective for increasing concentration in athletes, so I hope that research begins to addresses how this type of brain-monitoring system might help individuals on the autism spectrum. Until then, the devices effectiveness among the special needs population is subject to debate.