Visual resources such as instructional videos have been established as a beneficial method of training those with autism different daily living skills. One UK engineer is working on a new way to make instructional videos much more effective.
A drawback to these videos is that some children have a hard time connecting with the subjects in the videos as they can’t relate to them. However, according to research in autism, children with autism do relate to their own face and can recognize it in a mirror.
Sen-Ching (Samson) Cheung, an associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member within the UK Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments, has a son with autism. Most of his research has been in the area of multimedia information analysis – it occurred to him that his area of research could be used to help his son and others like him.
“I enjoy solving problems and developing new theories, working on new technology and future products,” Cheung said. “Though we were disappointed about the diagnosis, we began taking our son to different therapies and reading about effective ways to help children with autism,” Cheung recalls.
Cheung hypothesized that if children with autism could watch themselves accomplishing basic daily living tasks they would be more likely to develop those skills given their inclination to want to look at themselves.
Working with UK pediatric professor Dr. Neelkamal Soares, autism expert from the UK College of Education Lisa Ruble and developmental psychologist from the College of Arts and Sciences Ramesh Bhatt, Cheung has submitted proposals for funding to develop what is called a “virtual mirror.” In the virtual mirror, a child will be able to look at himself in a large computer display. As he is looking at himself, the program will take his image and virtually create the child carrying out the very actions he needs to learn (speaking, sitting still, social interactions with others, etc.). Cheung hopes that this new technology can help children like his son better concentrate on behavioral learning and generalizing abstract concepts to daily life.
“Developing something new that will help autistic children is incredibly rewarding for me. I am taking my background and expertise and connecting them to something I have a personal stake in seeing succeed. It’s for our child and also for countless other parents of autistic children who need help.” Cheung says.
“I am hopeful for the virtual mirror’s possibilities — it is the most important work I have ever done,” he says. “But even more so, I am extremely hopeful for my son.”