Video Chat and Autism: Better Medium for Communication?

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Communicating with a child on the spectrum can be frustrating, especially in person. Children with autism have difficulty interacting with their peers and others, often choosing to be or otherwise excluded from social circles. In order to look into different ways of communicating with children on the spectrum, research was done by Mokashi, Yarosh, and Abowd in using video chat for children with autism.

The research is fascinating, and found that in a particularly controlled environment, communicating with a child on the spectrum from teacher to student worked well. Floor time and therapy could be arranged with minimal planning, and the results were positive. The premise behind the research is that by using a computer to mediate the interaction, children with autism will be more willing to open up and communicate. Similar research has been done in using video modeling to help those with autism practice and complete tasks. This research simply takes the next step in encouraging interaction through the video medium.

Of course, this is just the first study that I've seen about using web chat (such as Skype, Lync, Google Chat, or FaceTime) in order to work with children on the spectrum. The article itself said that more research and work needs to be done to confirm that this technique will work outside of the controlled environment, but it's promising.

In my own personal experience, both my boys have used web chat to some extent. My youngest is more enthralled with it, often really getting close to the camera. My oldest takes the least amount of interest, but has interacted when necessary. Of course this only works for communication that isn't in the same room (in order to avoid sound feedback and echoes).

What would be really fascinating is if the interaction was augmented through a robot, such as Romo, it could allow for more interesting and fascinating interactions, as there will be a physical component to it.