How would you help autistic kids to learn social skills? Edumind concept is the outcome of one of the first two challenges launched by Challenge Based Innovation Course (CBI) in collaboration with CERN.
The multidisciplinary student team discovered that autistic children need a specific environment for comfortably interacting and learning together with their peers – and, almost as a side product, acquire intuitive social skills. The Edumind concept is an educational platform that combines the benefits of the tangible and the digital worlds for meeting these needs.
Physical mind is a learning platform for autistic kids for acquiring intuitive social skills during school days. Bearing in mind the characteristically low tolerance for
unexpected, uncontrollable situations, our aim was to create a structured framework for lowering the threshold for social initiation and collaborative learning. The platform consists of a multi-touch surface with a tangible user interface – intelligent blocks adjusting audio, visual and tactile feedback to users’ responses andthus optimizing the level of difficulty for both players.
Social skills through therapy activities
Tangible mind is a collaborative platform opportune for teaching therapy activities such as the Theory of mind within the school environment. The benefits of using a computer assisted platform with a tangible user interface is the identification of different users, making it possible to:
- Track responses and keep all stakeholders – parents, teachers and therapists, updated about the child’s progress.
- Based on responses, adjust to the user’s level in real time by varying the amount, speed, intensity and type of prompt.
- Carry on the activity together with another child of a different level.
- Maintain motivation by providing the ideal level of difficulty for both participants.
- Overall, reduce the time needed for the child-therapist interaction and thus make the therapy affordable to more users.
The multisensorial platform (multitouch table and EDUblocks) offer a more engaging media for teaching the Theory of Mind protocol:
- Through physical activity, the platform allows the children to participate in narrating theory-of-mind-related sequences.
- The child’s own involvement supports relating to the stories and makes the therapy more interesting.
- Collaborative activity with concrete objects augments attention to the other participant’s actions, needs and beliefs, which adds a new dimension in learning the theory of mind.
- The adjustability and variance of prompts (visual, tactile and audio) contributes in making the learning more efficient.
Social skills through real-life practice
In parallel to the therapy activities, we propose adding a new dimension to learning social skills through real-life interaction with peers. Resulting in our field research in autistic schools and families, we found out that autistic children have a high threshold for approaching and maintaining relations with other kids due to the fear of unpredictable social situations.
This challenge could be overcome by providing a safe, controlled environment for familiarizing with peer-interaction. The Tangible Mind framework is based on a supportive the software – learning activities with turn-taking and collaborative exercises – with the feeling of control enabled by the physical platform. Nonetheless, in order to prepare for spontaneous social interaction, our aim is to eventually remove the dependency of technology by step-by-step fading away the framework.
Besides, the EDUs could have a great advantage for attracting joint attention and mutual awareness between the participants during the activity, making it possible to learn to pick up natural social cues. Our tangible user-interface is especially suitable for children, presenting intuitive, natural ways for learning and trying out new things.
In the future, we think that presenting the support to the social situations through augmented reality overlay, for example by pairing unobtrusive AR glasses with the learning platform would help in overcoming this challenge. As advancement from the currently proposed shared 2D-platform with a tangible user interface, an augmented reality space projected between the kids could bring the interaction closer to the eye-level and natural social interaction, as well as underline the shared activity.
Project documentation https://cernbox.cern.ch/index.php/s/jlk4EYdP43FhhoD