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Scotland's Student Newspaper
New App helps children with autism
University of Edinburgh staff develop iPad game
Wednesday, 18 January, 2012 | 09:00

Researchers from Edinburgh University have fused technology with their research to develop a new iPad App that could help children with autism.

FindMe was developed jointly by researchers from the university’s Education and Informatics department and App developers who designed the simple game to help children as young as 18 months improve their social skills.

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson, fellow at the Nuffield Foundation New Career Development, told The Journal: “Children with autism are often adept with computers. Thanks to the iPad’s touch screen we can now create games for very young children with autism, when it may benefit them most.

"We hope our app will be helpful to both children with autism and their families.”

The game works by using the iPad’s touch screen whereby children have to find onscreen characters and tap on them to move onto the next level. Different scenarios are also used to challenge children’s awareness of the characters which researchers hope will enable them to develop transferable social skills to the real world.

The App is the first of its kind in combining autism research with iPad gaming. Children are faced with an increasing number of distractions as the game progresses which researchers say will encourage them to focus on the other characters and what they need, a social skill that people with autism characteristically find difficult.

Rewards in the shape of specially designed animations appear on screen after every round and newer versions of the game will also tackle other social problems autistic children face, such as being unable to follow a pointing finger or monitor where another person is looking.

60 children with autism from the Lothians are already scheduled to test the App in April when researchers will see what effect it has on their social skills. The App is the first step towards new research done by the University of Edinburgh which looks at developing new technology to help individuals with autism.

It is also hoped that the free App will go global with characters being able to speak in French, German and both British and American English accents.

The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and was launched on Wednesday 11 January at BETT (the British Educational Training and Technology show), Europe’s largest educational technology showcase at London’s Olympia. 

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