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Giving Autistic Kids A Voice

Giving Autistic Kids A Voice

It\’s estimated one out of every 150 babies born in the United States will develop autism. A new case is diagnosed every 20 minutes. One of the biggest challenges for parents and therapists is understanding what an autistic child is feeling or thinking. Now video games and even robots are closing the communication gap.

They entertain us, captivate us and even help us stay fit. But now video games are also giving kids with autism a voice.

In a classroom halfway around the world in Granada, Spain, an autistic boy touches a tiny screen and tells his teacher he wants to play. While studying the best way for autistic kids to communicate, system informatics researchers and ergonomists have created specialized software for Nintendo systems. It helps autistic kids express sadness, happiness and basic wants and needs.

“They can say I want this or I don\’t want this,” Maria Jose Rodrigues Fortiz, of the University of Granada, explained to Ivanhoe.

In a study in 16 Spanish schools, the program decreased the number of outbursts and improved behavior in all classrooms.

“They are less aggressive because they can communicate,” Jose Rodrigues Fortiz said.

On this side of the Atlantic, psychologists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville are using robots to crack the autism code.

“You shoot hoops and if I\’m stressed out it will slow down,” 16-year-old Daniel Mirtes, who has autism, explained.

While Mirtes plays basketball the robot measures his heart rate, skin temperature and muscle movements. From that, it reads and responds to his mood.

“The amazing thing is you can put it all together and learn what a child is feeling,” Wendy Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, said.

The robot predicted the child\’s emotional state correctly more than 80 percent of the time — about as good at identifying a child\’s feelings as an experienced therapist.

“If we can adapt our behavior, we\’re going to have much more success in teaching things and that could be anything from sitting at the dinning room table to learning how to do a math problem,” Dr. Stone said.

It\’s new technology that\’s tapping into children\’s minds and helping adults understand the mysteries of autism