Mar 18, 2009

Children With Autism May Learn From 'Virtual Peers'

Using "virtual peers" -- animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children -- Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed to prepare children with autism for interactions with real-life children. Children with high-functioning autism may be able to give you a lecture on a topic of great interest to them but they can't carry on a 'contingent' -- or two-way -- conversation.

The researchers found that children with autism produced more and more "contingent" sentences when they spoke with the virtual peer, while their sentences did not become increasingly contingent when they were paired with the real-life children. Certainly the virtual peers didn't automatically make the best playmates for children with autism."The overall goal is for the children with autism to generalize the skills they learn in practice sessions with virtual peers to meaningful interactions with real-world children. But they hold promise that virtual peers can be useful in helping children with autism develop communication and social skills.

virtual peers have some distinct advantages over real-life children when it comes to practicing social skills. For starters, children with autism often like technology. A major challenge for children with autism is learning the rules of social behavior that typically developing children seem to learn intuitively. With them we hope that they can apply their newly acquired skills to real-life situations.

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