Autism Information

Monday, March 24, 2008

Virtual playmates may help develop social skills in autistic children

Children with autism now have a new friend to play with. Researchers from the Northwestern University are currently developing a program using ‘virtual peers’ – animated children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children – to help autistic children develop communication and social skills necessary in real-world interactions. According to Andrea Tartaro, one of the researchers involved in the program, the “overall goal is for the children with autism to generalize the skills they learn in practice sessions with virtual peers into meaningful interactions with real-world children.”

From the program’s initial reports, it was discovered that highly-functioning autistic children aged 7 to 11 interacted slightly better with virtual peers than with real-life children. Researchers therefore aim to use these virtual playmates as models for real life children to expose autistic children to different kinds of social interaction and elicit socially-skilled behavior. They hope that by exposing them to virtual peers, autistic children can “practice the rules behind joining a game, holding a conversation and maintaining social interaction” and overcome the communication and social challenges they often face.

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