By: Hugh C. McBride
A computer science expert from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC) has developed a technique for converting the content of conversations into color-coded images – a breakthrough she believes may be able to enhance the social skills of children with high-functioning autism.
Karrie Karahalios’s “Conversation Clock” provides immediate visual feedback about who is and isn’t speaking, how loudly and long they are speaking, and if they are interrupting others.
This exciting technology has a variety of applications. For example, a Reuters article notes it could be used in relationship counseling to demonstrate and document disparities within a couple’s communication patterns. At the moment, though, Karahalios is focusing on the ways in which the clock can help improve the communication skills of children with high-functioning autism.
Immediate Visual Feedback for Children with Autism
According to an article posted on the website of the UI-UC Department of Computer Science, features of the Conversation Clock include:
- Conversations displayed on a computer terminal in vibrant red, yellow, blue, and green.
- Three times each second, a color bar on the monitor displays who is speaking. The bars grow in size if the voice gets louder, and abruptly narrows with silence. Overlapping colors represent interruptions.
- By providing feedback in real time, the clock can act as a type of social mirror, Karahalios said, allowing people to adjust their speech in the same way they adjust their appearance before a glass mirror.
- Every minute, a new circle of bars is created, forming a visual record of the conversation that is similar to the rings within a tree trunk. This feature allows participants to visualize both immediate interaction patterns and the progression of the entire conversation.
” Kids with [high-functioning autism] tend to do monologuing and lecturing without letting others intervene,” Maria Dixon, a clinical instructor in hearing and speech with the University of Maryland, said in the Reuters article. “The challenge is to get them visual feedback while this is happening.”
Autism and Social Skills
As Dixon and Karahalios have both observed, children with autism often have difficulty engaging in conversations, and many struggles to form and maintain healthy relationships. Adolescents with autism syndrome often express negative emotions when discussing the topic of friendships. Experts have noted, however, efforts to enhance their socialization skills can reap significant and lasting benefits.
Other Opportunities for Teens with High Functioning Autism
Recent decades have seen significant advances in the development of effective learning programs for adolescents with autism. Excellent opportunities exist both during the school year and at specialized summer camps.
The most effective and reputable programs for teens with high-functioning autism provide nurturing, structured environments in which highly trained staff members offer both education and support in a consistently positive manner.
By designing learning experiences taking into account the individual strengths and needs of each student, these programs can significantly enhance students’ self-esteem and self-worth. They can allow students to make great strides toward becoming self-sufficient while engaging more effectively with family members and friends.