For autistic children, everyday interactions can be hard to decode. Socializing is often stressful, and expressing needs and emotions can be a struggle.
But innovative tech solutions have come a long way to help empower the autistic community, enhancing communication through ingenuity. And we’re taking time to recognize some of these impactful and creative gadgets for Autism Acceptance Month.
From smart instruments and emotion trackers to a child-sized robot that teaches social skills, here’s just a small sample of extremely cool devices doing good for the autistic community.
1. The toy helping autistic kids communicate through music
Synchrony is a drum-like device helping autistic children engage with others through music. It can be used as formal or informal music therapy, which has been proven to help autistic children broaden their social and emotional skills.
The smooth, silicon instrument helps autistic kids bridge social gaps by letting them harmonize — literally — with playmates. Synchrony responds to touch, always playing calming sounds without dissonance or “bad notes,” which can sometimes be overwhelming for autistic children.
2. Digital stones allowing autistic children to “speak”
Smartstones Touch is a handheld, stone-like device that remotely controls an app called :prose, allowing children to “speak” pre-programed phrases aloud with taps and swipes. Light, sound, and vibration patterns correspond with each gesture made on a Smartstone, giving autistic users tactile feedback when communicating.
The stones offer a simplified way of communication, which is perfect for nonverbal autistic children. The device is currently available for preorder here.
3. A text-based app helping nonverbal autistic children communicate
Proloquo4Text is a text-based app that instantly turns typed words into speech. The app, which was designed for nonverbal people, can be customized to display the words and phrases an individual uses often. The app also features word and sentence prediction that learns a user’s communication patterns for faster responses.
Users can also choose their own voice on Proloquo4Text, giving them autonomy over not only what they say, but how they say it.
4. This cute-as-can-be smart toy designed for autistic children
Leka is an adorable interactive device that serves as a buddy for autistic children. The smart toy encourages kids to develop autonomy through independent play.
Leka plays sounds and music, lights up, vibrates, and even speaks to help engage autistic children in multi-sensory activities. The gadget is also customizable, which means it can be tailored to fit a child’s specific needs and comfort.
5. The washed-up tech trend helping to decode emotions
Google Glass is long over, but the discontinued product is still helping the autistic community, thanks to innovation at Stanford University. Researchers are testing software for Google Glass that allows autistic children to “see” social cues through the device, with the goal of enhancing social skills.
The researchers are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to help decode facial expressions for autistic children, indicating when a person is happy, sad, angry, and more. When a child wears glasses enabled with the program, they won’t have to guess the emotional tone of a conversation. Simple text will pop up in the corner of the screen, telling them what a person’s facial expression says about their mood.
The product is currently being tested on 100 autistic children ages 3 to 17.
6. The child-like robot helping autistic children with social skills
Kaspar may look a little creepy, but he’s helping autistic children learn how to communicate safely and effectively. The child-like robot can talk and sing, comb his hair, and imitate eating, and the simple design of his face makes facial expressions easier to read. He also responds to touch, letting a child know if they are too rough during play.
Approximately 170 children, many of whom are autistic, have worked with nearly 30 Kaspar prototypes over the past 10 years to help develop and refine the robot. Researchers and teachers have found that Kaspar can act as a more predictable learning tool for autistic children, which helps them get more comfortable with peers in the long run.
7. The wearable social coach for people with Asperger’s
Creators of a new conversation coach for smartwatches want to help decipher nonverbal communication, like facial expressions and gestures, to help children with Asperger’s navigate social interactions.
The innovation uses custom algorithms, sensors, and AI deep-learning systems to analyze a person’s tone in real time, helping those on the autism spectrum decode other people’s emotions during conversation. MIT researchers plan to integrate the system with smartwatches, hoping to increase accessibility for those who need it most.
Though still in early development stages, research has already found that the device can accurately read a conversation’s tone up to 83 percent of the time.
8. The musical cube designed for social play
Skoog is an accessible, tactile cube that enhances social interactions for autistic children through music and play. The device connects to an iPad and allows kids to start creating music immediately, without any lessons or prior knowledge.
While it was designed to facilitate music therapy, the gadget can also help bridge communication gaps between autistic and non-autistic people, giving autistic children a sensory-friendly experience that calms nerves and encourages interaction at the same time.