Goodwin (2008). technology for autism

In References on June 30, 2009 at 6:33 am

GoodWin, M. S. (2008). Enhancing and accelerating the pace of autism research and treatment: the promise of developing innovative technology. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 23, 125-128.


Comments on Kimball & Smith (2007)


Benefits of developing innovative technologies for autism

Telecommunication technology that utilizes the Internet can support long distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.

e.g., Personal Health Record


Assessment efforts

Audio and video technologies are being developed that enable caregivers to record, annotate, and communicate behavioral data is the internet from classroom, home, and clinical settings (e.g., BI Capture;


The Autism Collaborative;


Promote interventions

Computerized educational products include DVD-based programs that help individuals with autism look at the human face and learn about emotions (e.g., Transporters;


Another computer-based system uses interactive virtual peers (VPs)—3-D, life-sized, computer-animated characters that look like children and communicate with speech and gestures—to explore social interactions (e.g.,


Although VPs are not meant to replace interactions with real peers, they may provide a scaffold for developing skills necessary for successful real-world interactions. Interactive computer simulation software developed to teach novice tutors (e.g., educators, parents, siblings) discrete trial

training techniques (e.g., DTkid; Randell, Hall, Bizo, & Remington, 2007) is also underway. Finally, sociable robots and dolls able to track faces, expressions, and eye gaze are being developed to teach individuals with autism communication and social interaction skills (e.g., turn taking, imitation) in a way that is more engaging and less stressful than face-to-face human interaction (e.g., The AuRoRA Project;


Skill Generalizability

Virtual reality (VR) technology may provide a relatively lowcost-

way for individuals with autism to practice rule learning and repetition of tasks across contexts. VR technologies are being adapted to teach individuals with autism a variety of skills (e.g., making choices, conflict

resolution, road safety) that may generalize to their everyday

lives (e.g., d02Learn; ).


The aim of VR is not to circumvent real-world social interaction altogether but to provide a teaching aid that allows practice and demonstration along side normal input from teacher or support workers.


Reducing the Cost of Treatment

Based on recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, the Autism Society of America (ASA) estimates that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade (ASA, 2008). The total annual societal per capita cost (including both direct and indirect expenses) of caring for and treating a person with autism in the United States is estimated to be $3.2 million and about $35 billion for an entire birth cohort of people with autism (Ganz, 2007). The rising prevalence of autism, exorbitant cost of treatment (e.g., behavior therapy alone can cost upwards of $60,000 per year), and relatively limited professional resources available suggest that innovative technologies should be explored to reduce some of these expenses.


Providing portable and in-home computerized educational and self-management tools may transfer skills to caregivers and persons with autism and reduce reliance on costly professional consultation.

Portable, wearable sensors are being used to record autonomic

nervous system functioning in persons with autism

to help them understand, communicate, and regulate their

arousal levels (e.g., Goodwin et al., 2006).


Also under development are systems that utilize wearable cameras and pattern recognition software to infer socioemotional states using nonverbal cues such as head and facial displays of people and communicate these inferences to the wearer via visual, auditory, and tactile feedback (e.g.,



Computerized, mobile tools such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) are also coming to market to help individuals with autism organize their materials, establish schedules, and provide cues for completing day-to-day

tasks (e.g., Symtrend; ).


Finally, speech technologies, which include speech recognition, speaker recognition, speech synthesis, and voice transformation (e.g., Center for Spoken Language Understanding;

researchprojects.html), are making tremendous advances in terms of accuracy, quality, and user adaptability and can be used for a wide range of assistive, diagnostic, and remedial purposes.


Research Recruitment and Implementation

Research recruitment involves matching parents of individuals with autism with local and national institutional review board–approved research studies for which they are uniquely qualified. Each year, many autism studies are not

completed because scientists cannot find enough qualified participants in a timely manner. Information systems technologies that utilize easy-to-use, secure, Web-based platforms can support data collection and transmission, information retrieval, and communication. An example of an information system technology for autism is the newly founded Interactive Autism Network (IAN; ). IAN promotes data collection and research recruitment by enabling parents of individuals with autism to participate in research studies by sharing valuable genealogical, environmental, and treatment data from remote locations (e.g., home or office) using the Internet.


Barriers to Realizing the Promise of Innovative Technologies

As Kimball and Smith (2007) aptly indicated, the primary barrier to creating and utilizing emerging technology in autism research is funding exploratory/development research. The ITA workgroup and its resources also serve to disseminate research and to actively recruit new investigators to the field by providing midsized multiyear grants, fast-track bridge grants, educational programs, and a workgroup within which investigators can meet, share information, and collaborate to create further advances in scientific knowledge regarding autism (




Innovative technologies carry great promise for enhancing and accelerating the pace of autism research and treatment. Increased support for this initiative is needed to facilitate collaborative arrangements between technologists and various stakeholders in the autism community. It is hoped that mobilizing available opportunities and resources for technology development will translate into better understanding, support, and reatment of one of the most debilitating neurodevelopmental disorders of humankind.


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