Some of the world’s foremost autism researchers were in Montreal for a conference that wrapped up on Saturday, demonstrating some of the newest technology in their field.
Among the tech put on display was Cozmo, a tiny robot that might look like a toy but is playing a big role in new research. Mark Brosnan of the Centre for Applied Autism Research at the University of Bath is using Cozmo to study how easily autistic children collaborate while playing with the same toy.
“We found the autistic children were interacting with each other, playing with each other and communicating with each other, just like non-autistic children did,” he said.
Brosnan found communication and social anxiety were reduced by having something interactive yet simple to play with. He said using technology can be an easy entry to being more social.
“One kid said ‘This is the brother I never had’ and was kissing Cozmo. It was fantastic,” he said.
The 2019 International Society for Autism Research conference brought together 2,500 researchers to discuss their findings. Other tech on display included virtual reality, such as a game designed to help children learn to safely cross the street. Another, Choreograph-Fish, blended technology and dance.
“The game is about synchronizing fish to any music you want to upload into the system,” said University of Utah School of Dance professor Eric Handman.
By putting on the headset users are immersed in a world with precise goals and fewer distractions, which helps children learn to focus and learn.
“We’re working with the idea that working with patterns reduces anxiety,” said Handman.
Some parents were weary of the high-tech solutions, saying they can be too expensive. Some said the children end up mimicking the robots, making their speech and actions stilted. Researchers said part of the goal of the conference is to address those concerns and find solutions.
“This meeting is really about inspiring each other,” said Autism Research Centre of Cambridge University’s Simon Baron-Cohen. “You learn about other people’s research. Collaborations are formed but it’s very much about listening to the latest research.”