Autism Theory and Technology >> Content Detail




Take the following tests and comment on your scores in light of the readings for this session. Are you an empathizer or systemizer? Spend some time avoiding face or eye contact when interacting with others and comment on your experience. Does it affect your behavior in any way? How can we encourage/systemize social interactions? What opportunities are there for helping people with autism with social interactions? How would our affective/relational machines score?

Eyes Test

Empathy Quotient

Try the Sally-Anne task with a person with autism or a young child.

We will explore the Mind Reading DVD (Baron-Cohen et al., 2004) in class.


Please address each of these items briefly after reading the papers for this session. We will plan to discuss these issues and ideas more fully during class.

1. Ozonoff and Rogers mention some of the legitimate aptitudes that people with autism have. Describe an area that you engage in regularly where at least one of these aptitudes could be particularly advantageous.

2. It is very hard to evaluate if a technology intervention helps improve the performance of somebody with autism. Name two issues specific to the ASD population that a researcher has to be particularly careful about.

3. Given what you have learned about ASD so far, describe two nice properties of online systems like KidTalk for helping people with ASD. Also describe two potential concerns of online approaches for treating ASD-related social needs.

4. Virtual reality technologies offer the disadvantages of being more expensive, harder to maintain (cleaning sweat off, etc.) and less accessible to groups who want to interact; at the same time, the experience they provide is more immersive and real. Construct an example where you think the additional effort of virtual reality therapy might be most effective for helping somebody with ASD.

5. Real-time social-emotional interaction is an enormously difficult problem for people with ASD and GSP, interpreting both verbal and non-verbal information in real time while trying to read between the lines and figure out how to respond. Suppose there was a full working version of the PARLE system with facial and speech affect recognition coupled with verbal expression interpretation. What problems do you anticipate this system might produce? Can you envision an interface to this system that would help a person in real time?

6. Luis von Ahn's strategy of crafting games utilizing human skills to do things machines can't do could be applied in many other domains besides image labeling. Suggest a way that this might be applied to help people with ASD.

7. For the galvactivator, please just feel free to play with it for now. We will learn more about it next week.


Please address each of these items after reading the papers for this session. We will plan to discuss these issues and ideas more fully during class.

1. How can arousal modulation problems impact children's development? What role might such problems play in autism spectrum disorders (ASD)?

2. What are the characteristics of ASD related to stress?

3. What factors need to be considered when assessing physiological reactivity in individuals with ASD? Consider this question in terms of: (1) characteristics of ASD; (2) characteristics of assessment devices; and (3) characteristics of assessment setting and observation protocol.

4. If you could reliably identify that an individual with ASD had problems with arousal modulation, how might you help him/her to cope?

5. Try two of these (or similar) classic stress experiments with the galvactivator on yourself or on a good friend who is willing. These include physical, cognitive, and social stress elicitors, all of which have been shown to produce sympathetic arousal. Report to us what you tried and what happened.

a) Physical (Cold pressor test): Immerse non-glove hand in a bowl of ice water for 3 minutes.

b) Cognitive (Mental arithmetic): Without a calculator or pen and paper, multiple two numbers beginning at 1, then multiply the product by the next number, i.e., 1 x 2 = 2, 2 x 3 = 6, 6 x 7 = 42, 42 x 43, etc.

c) Social (Public speaking): Make a video recording of yourself talking about something, e.g., what you are learning in this class. (Make sure the camera shows the galvactivator.)

Note that it is advised to do some kind of relaxation before and after each stressor, setting the light to be very dim (just visible) after the baseline relaxation period. For example, you can experiment with progressive relaxation (eyes closed, focus attention on relaxing the eyes, nose, mouth, neck, chest, arms, legs, feet, etc.) and see if this makes the light go dim. (Some readings might also possibly have this relaxing affect.)


Please address each of these items after reading the papers for this session. We will plan to discuss these issues and ideas more fully during class.

This assignment is intended to get you thinking about ideas/concepts you'd like to pursue for a final project.

The last question has more of a design flavor, so be prepared to discuss your concept design with the class (you can bring supplementary materials, e.g., Microsoft® PowerPoint® slides, etc. if you'd like). I would like this class to feel a bit more like a design studio where we can share ideas and give feedback on them.

1. We've read a variety of readings (for this and prior classes) on various technologies for diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment. Summarize the design issues for the following classes of technological systems: ubiquitous computing platforms, wearable computing platforms, robotic platforms, and desktop computer platforms. These issues should consider both the patient's perspective as well as the clinician's perspective (and the family's perspective, if relevant).

2. What are the particular advantages or limitations of each class of technology: ubiquitous computing, wearable computing, robotics, and desktop computers. This should inform what kind of technology you might choose for a particular kind of application.

3. The SCERTS Model presents evaluation goals for 3 classes of developmental dimensions that must be addressed in a comprehensive program to support the development of young children with ASD and their families. These classes are Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support. Propose a conceptual design for a social robot that can help a child achieve a few of the goals articulated in this paper. For instance, under Social Communication, you might choose to propose a social robot design and interaction regimen that helps a child improve their ability to achieve the goals of establishing "anticipatory behavior" and "shared affect." Be prepared to discuss your concept designs in class: what the robot looks like (its "embodiment"), its behaviors, the interactions it implements to help teach the child, the role of the experimenter, how you would assess the child's performance over time. For instance, how can you design the robot to serve as a scaffold (helping the child to build competence) rather than a crutch (the child is always dependent upon it)? Are there any ethical concerns that must be addressed?

Initial proposal draft due: Preliminary "draft" project proposals are due this class. This can be a couple pages (or less) of 1-3 ideas that you'd be interested in pursuing for the project due the last day of class. They can be kind of rough at this point. Try to describe what you'd hope to achieve, what you think you could learn by doing the project, together with what resources you would need to get there.

We encourage you to build/modify some technology or run some experiment with existing technology that permits you to explore more deeply some of the ideas/theories presented in the class. Please feel free to talk to any of the instructors or email all of us with any questions. We're happy to help try to locate resources for you. We will also make time to meet and discuss project proposal drafts before the final proposals are due. If you're looking for somebody to consider collaborating with you on an idea, feel free to mail the whole class list too.

6We plan on using most of this class to present project proposals so that each of us can benefit from this discussion. Final project proposals are due this week (before spring break) to give you some time to incorporate this class feedback into your final project proposal.

Please address briefly: Is autism best construed as a modular dysfunction or theory of mind?

Please also email the staff with the latest progress on your project (COUHES approval, materials you need that are gathered, any other questions). We are happy to work with you to assist.


1. Describe, in your own words, the trajectory of how an imitation behavior could facilitate the development of more sophisticated social interaction skills.

2. Briefly describe three of the many hypothesized ways in which problems with development of the mirror neuron system could lead to the characteristics seen in autism.

3. Dawson describes some ways parents of a child with autism and their child have been observed to interact, which may both arise from and have implications for the child's atypical development. Give an example of one of these kinds of interactions and explain how it does not imply the parent is causing the child's autism.

4. Developmental information like "When did your son/daughter first smile" or "When did your child first learn to hold joint attention" are crucial for early detection of autism and other developmental disorders. Describe a new technology that would make it easier, more fun, and more objective to help monitor a child's development.

5. Can you suggest any technologies that might help diagnose autism at an early age?


Please address each of these items after reading the papers for this session.

1. Identify theoretical strengths of the intervention models presented in both the Gutstein and McGinnis readings.

2. Identify practical challenges endemic to each of the intervention models presented in the Gutstein, McGinnis, and Solomon readings.

3. Come up with 1-2 activities that could be used to promote social-emotional development and identify the theoretical model of programming to which they most closely adhere.

4. What are some ways new technologies could be used to augment the effectiveness of these sorts of intervention techniques?

Please email staff an update of your project progress by the morning of the class.

10In preparation for Estee Klar-Wolfond's visit in Ses #11, review the readings, videos, and blogs for Ses #11 and choose five that you are prepared to present to the class as exemplars of new ways of referencing autism that we may contrast with the perspectives represented in the Bettelheim and Miller materials.

Five of the materials listed for this date will have been reviewed for Ses #10. Now review the rest as well as some of the optional materials if you have time and prepare answers to six of the nine questions listed below, after doing your reading and video watching. We will discuss these issues and ideas more fully during the lecture.

1. In reviewing the literature written by autistic individuals and disability rights activists, how has your view of autism as a deviance from the norm affected your view? How has it affected your project?

2. What guides should we use in developing assistive technologies for autistic individuals?

3. How might we change our "developmental" view of autism when it comes to teaching?

4. What do autistic individuals have to teach us?

5. What are the documented strengths and perceptual abilities in autism and how can those be integrated in the development of assistive technologies?

6. What terms would you replace in referencing autism now that you know something about how autistic people feel about them?

7. What are some successful strategies you've read about or seen that respects the autistic individual?

8. Is the goal to render an autistic person less autistic? Explain.

9. What does accommodation and access look like for successful inclusion of autistic individuals on our research teams, at conferences, boards of directors, etc.? Can you suggest successful environmental strategies that are relatively easy to employ?



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