First evidence of the feasibility of gaze-contingent attention training for school children with autism.
Powell, G., Wass, S. V., Erichsen, J. T., & Leekam, S. R. 2016. Autism
A number of authors have suggested that attention control may be a suitable target for cognitive training in children with autism spectrum disorder. This study provided the first evidence of the feasibility of such training using a battery of tasks intended to target visual attentional control in children with autism spectrum disorder within school-based settings. Twenty-seven children were recruited and randomly assigned to either training or an active control group. Of these, 19 completed the initial assessment, and 17 (9 trained and 8 control) completed all subsequent training sessions. Training of 120 min was administered per participant, spread over six sessions (on average). Compliance with the training tasks was generally high, and evidence of within-task training improvements was found. A number of untrained tasks to assess transfer of training effects were administered pre- and post-training. Changes in the trained group were assessed relative to an active control group. Following training, significant and selective changes in visual sustained attention were observed. Trend training effects were also noted on disengaging visual attention, but no convincing evidence of transfer was found to non-trained assessments of saccadic reaction time and anticipatory looking. Directions for future development and refinement of these new training techniques are discussed.
Blending human and artificial intelligence to support autistic children’s social communication skills.
Porayska-Pomsta, K., Alcorn, A. M., Avramides, K., Beale, S., Bernardini, S., Foster, M. E., ... & Smith, T. J. 2018. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)
This article examines the educational efficacy of a learning environment in which children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) engage in social interactions with an artificially intelligent (AI) virtual agent and where a human practitioner acts in support of the interactions. A multi-site intervention study in schools across the UK was conducted with 29 children with ASC and learning difficulties, aged 4--14 years old. For reasons related to data completeness and amount of exposure to the AI environment, data for 15 children was included in the analysis. The analysis revealed a significant increase in the proportion of social responses made by ASC children to human practitioners. The number of initiations made to human practitioners and to the virtual agent by the ASC children also increased numerically over the course of the sessions. However, due to large individual differences within the ASC group, this did not reach significance. Although no evidence of transfer to the real-world post-test was shown, anecdotal evidence of classroom transfer was reported. The work presented in this article offers an important contribution to the growing body of research in the context of AI technology design and use for autism intervention in real school contexts. Specifically, the work highlights key methodological challenges and opportunities in this area by leveraging interdisciplinary insights in a way that (i) bridges between educational interventions and intelligent technology design practices, (ii) considers the design of technology as well as the design of its use (context and procedures) on par with one another, and (iii) includes design contributions from different stakeholders, including children with and without ASC diagnosis, educational practitioners, and researchers.