Social Conversation Training Simulation for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: N/A
Contract: 1R43MH076307-01A2
Agency Tracking Number: MH076307
Amount: $199,209.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Awards Year: 2007
Solicitation Year: 2007
Solicitation Topic Code: N/A
Solicitation Number: N/A
Small Business Information
DUNS: 128822736
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: Y
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: Y
Principal Investigator
 (443) 283-2504
Business Contact
Phone: (443) 283-2555
Research Institution
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This project is part of a long-term effort to reduce the burdens and disability associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Forty per cent of adults and adolescents who have an ASD diagnosis do not have mental retardation. In many cases language abilities appear intact, while social pragmatic skills are markedly impaired. These individuals fail to achieve vocational success consonant with their intellectual level, and may be unable to establish friendships and relationships outside of their family. The specific aim of the project is to develop a training simulation to improve these individuals' social interaction performance. Gains in basic conversational skills are expected to enable individuals with ASD to be included in more frequent and appropriate interactions, with positive impact on their vocational and personal lives. The applicant proposes to use technology it originally developed to create training simulations for specialized social interactions (e.g., for an interviewer to detect suicide risk in a soldier). These simulations are based on complex models of the simulated characters' shifting emotional states in response to the history of the conversation, the user's most recent statement, and an element of chance. The simulation will include a database of hundreds of video clips performed by a professional actor, and a large set of statements and questions available for the user to speak or select by mouse click. The system will offer help features, including straightforward explanations of the simulated character's reactions, and guidance with response choices. An on-screen coach will provide exaggerated signals about the appropriateness of the user's response. Playback options will be available so that the user can review part or all of a conversation. Game features, including points for success and cheering for improved scores, will help sustain interest and reinforce learning. Content will be developed by the applicant's skilled scriptwriters with input from an autism researcher from Catholic University, and will also benefit from review of learning objectives by three clinicians, and interviews to discuss social skills issues with five members of the end-user population. Once the prototype simulation has been developed, it will be field-tested by 15 members of the target population. Data representing subjects' use of the simulation and its features will be automatically logged. Comparison of scores from pre- to post-training, number of games played when the simulation is available to them at home, and ratings of perceived utility, their likelihood to use a full simulation if it were available, and perceived realism will be the dependent measures. If criteria for usability and appeal of the prototype simulation are met, a proposal will be submitted for Phase II funding in order to develop a much larger, full simulation and test for generalization of new skills to subjects' real-world interactions. Adults and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are markedly impaired in their ability to interact with other people. Vocational and professional success are negatively impacted, and they tend to lead isolated lives despite efforts to connect with others. The current application proposes to create an interactive, role-play simulation of conversation, supported by help and coaching features, for use by people with ASD who wish to improve their social interaction skills, in order to increase their opportunities for rewarding interactions with peers.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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