What if there was a way to boost eye contact and social interaction in kids with autism that was not only painless, but a lot of fun?
Well, there is, and it's 100% free.
Samsung Canada has partnered with Autism Speaks Canada to roll out "Look at Me" (LAM), an app that uses built-in web camera functionality to increase eye contact and social connectivity in kids with ASD. In a trial whereby Samsung generously donated tablets loaded with LAM to 200 Canadian families, the results speak for themselves.
For the first time in her life, Cailin (seen in the video below) is smiling and taking selfies with her family and school friends.
After hearing about the successes these families enjoyed, I was keen to try out LAM at home. After all, my six year-old son LOVES tablets (show me a kid his age who doesn't). Yet even the most educational apps tend to suck him into a world of his own - the exact opposite of what a child with social challenges needs.
As for eye contact, short of asking him to "look at me," I admit a reluctance to push something that my son clearly finds uncomfortable. But if an app can gently encourage him to make more eye contact, then I'm all over that.
I'll be honest. The app isn't perfect; LAM still suffers from some early-stage hiccups. But the fact of the matter is, Samsung has done an amazing thing by putting its tech prowess to good use.
How it works
In each daily "mission" there are half a dozen challenges, some of which require the user to decode the feelings behind certain facial expressions. Others play on a social component; e.g.) someone poses for the camera while the user aligns facial features within a template.
The user scores points for every mission - mercifully limited to one per day - and an encouraging voice promises "You can do better next time." Parents can track progress via a secure login.
Though my son undertakes his daily mission with gusto, he finds the camera work too frustrating and fiddly and frequently winds up bypassing this aspect of LAM altogether. This may be because he's still quite young.
Every kid is different, though. While some may see few gains from Samsung's app, for other families, like Cailin's, LAM will be nothing short of a game-changer -- hopefully one that will spark further interactive autism apps.