That many people with Autism need support with social skills is a given. This week, we learned three ways in which assistive technology is helping. First, there is a cool new app called Hiki. She (or he?) has been enlisted to help autistic individuals find a date—or just good, old-fashioned friendship—online. However, there are those with autism who find correctly perceiving and identifying facial cues challenging. Enterprising science and technology professionals have dusted off several units of Google Glass. Finally, some autistic children need help with coping skills. A group of humanoid robots may be of assistance here.
Hiki, an App for Autistic People Seeking Love or Friendship
Hiki… It means “able” in Hawaiian . The idea is that autistic people are very capable; only, sometimes, they need a little assistance. Hiki claims it is the first ever relationship app for the autistic community. After all, like everyone else, autistic people worry about finding that right person, whether. That said, Hiki is not just a dating app, but a friendship app as well. Human relationships such as friendship are what many people with autism need.
The story of Hiki began with Jamil Karriem, a former real-estate professional. One day, his cousin—who happens to be autistic—confided that he often felt lonely and worried about making friends. Jamil was listening. Back home, he researched dating apps. He found plenty of apps that catered to people of a certain religion or who shared an interest. However, much to his surprise, there were no dating apps for people with autism. Then, Jamil started to research the prevalence of autism. Much to his surprise, he found that about 1 in 68 people in the U.S. are autistic. To Jamil, the need for a dating and friendship could not be starker. Thus, Jamil Karriem, founded Hiki, a “social platform for the autistic community,” and became its CEO.
Hiki, says Jamil, “is a space where being atypical is celebrated. A place where different is destigmatized and people can embrace their uniqueness and their commonality, all at the same time.” In addition, The team of designers are a neurodiverse lot, most with autism themselves. “Every part of Hiki, from ideation to design to launch, has been built in partnership with a multitude of remarkable individuals who are on the Spectrum to make sure that the tool that seeks to benefit this community is doing so in a way that is representative of their needs.”
For the families of autistic individuals, safety is a deep concern, especially with those with intellectual disabilities. With that in mind, the Hiki design team incorporated safety features, some of which send a “red flag” to the support team. Happiness and well-being are central to the Hiki mission. Said Jamil, “We built Hiki because we believe that friends, family, community, and love are the essence of joy. And that everyone deserves to be happy.”
Google Glass Finds a New Purpose: Teaching Children with Autism
As privacy concerns mounted, Google Glass became less attractive among consumers. So, the technology lay dormant until recently. A group of researchers has been looking into Google Glass as a tool to help autistic children identify emotions and facial expressions, a recent article in the New York Times reports. The child wearing the device would look directly at the other person and try to identify the emotion. The glasses would then inform them whether they were correct or not. The researchers were quick to mention that the system would work only if the autistic wearer looked directly at the other person, pointing the camera in their direction. The results of a randomized clinical trial of this new use for Google Glass were reported in a March 2019 article of JAMA Pediatrics, a publication of the American Medical Association. The research found that “children treated at home with the wearable intervention showed a significant improvement in socialization over children only receiving standard of care behavioral therapy.” The authors postulated that this technology could augment expensive behavioral therapy.
Robots with Personality
Ayanna Howard, a roboticist at the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (I.E.E.E.) and founder of an Atlanta tech start-up has developed humanoid robots teach coping skills to children with autism. She and four other team members last year conducted a preliminary study on using android robots to “facilitate sensory experiences for children with autism disorder.” These android robots model socially acceptable responses to emotions of happiness and sadness.