Children who suffer from autism find it hard to become involved in social interactions. As they struggle to fit into different social situations, their compromised communication skills make it increasingly difficult for them to engage with people around them. Enter “Autism Glass”.

Autism glass is a computerized experimental device which is installed with facial recognition software and has been designed by developers at Stanford University, as part of their “Autism Glass Project”.   The headset has a front-facing camera and small display placed above the right eye.  The camera detects an emotion on the face of the person standing in front, after which it translates the emotion into a corresponding word (such as “sad” or “happy”) or emoji on the display. The wearer of the autism glass reads the word or understands the emoji, which in turns help them read emotions.

An autistic child recounted her experiences and explained that being autistic feels as if she was playing a game and everyone else knew what to do, but she was wondering why the other children were not telling her the rules of the game.

A salient feature that leads to difficulties in social settings is rooted in a failure to understand the facial expressions of others while making conversation. The social communication skills of autistic children are marked by an inability to comprehend and interpret non-verbal gestures of their counterparts.

While conversing, facial expressions set the tone of the discussion. With a change in facial expressions of people involved in a conversation, the mood of the conversation can be interpreted. For instance, expressions such as frowning, grinning or smiling can visibly indicate a certain conversation’s direction.

However, children with autism fail to make these assumptions and interpretations.  Things are no different for 10-year old Julian Brown, who is one out of the 100 participants participating in a Stanford University study to observe if “autism glass” therapy helps them recognize and interpret facial expressions of others while conversing with them.

Director of the Stanford School of Medicine’s Wall Lab, Dennis Wall, said: “The autism glass program is meant to teach children with autism how to understand what a face is telling them. And we believe that when that happens they will become more socially engaged”.

For this experiment, Julian has to wear the autism glass for 20 minute sessions, thrice a day, when he is talking face-to-face with his family, taking his meal or playing games. The sessions are synchronized with a smart phone program which records the sessions and helps evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.

Julian felt an improvement in the way he interacts by after using autism glass, saying, “There’s not a machine that can read your mind, but this helps with the emotions, you know, recognizing them.”

Consequently, Julian’s mother was happy about the progress he now shows in social settings and appreciated his increased participation in discussions.

In the US alone, one out of every 68 children develops autism as they age. Autism is a generalized term for a neurological disorder which deals with early brain development. Autistic children begin to manifest signs of the condition between the two and three years of age. Early signs of autism are marked by delayed verbal learning and repeated behaviors. Difficulties with motor coordination, intellectual disabilities and attention deficit are also commonly observed in autistic children.  For them to become an active part of a social interactive, the situation has to be broken down  into pieces and explained to them.

 The aim of this project is to use technological advancements as a behavioral aide to help autistic children who are otherwise destined to social isolation.  Robert Ring, Chief Science Officer at Autism Speak said that using wearable glass technology is synonymous to entering the future and the technology will influence the way of diagnosing and managing disorders like autism.

With the advent of this intervention, conventional aids from therapists and flashcards for teaching autistic children to recognize facial expressions, will be complemented. The developers of this technology believe that autism glass will provide a convenient and affordable therapy for autistic children.

Google has supported this cause by providing 35 Google Glass devices to the experts at Stanford University. Although the study is in its initial phase of trial, it is hoped that if overwhelmingly positive outcomes are achieved, the technology will be made available for use within the next two years.