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Blog: Artificial Intelligence and Autism


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AI will transform the lives of people with ASD.

@nathananderson unsplash.com

Autism is on the rise in America. According to the CDC, 1 in 59 children in America has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This number has been growing. In 2000, just 1 in 150 children was identified with ASD. Almost half (44%) of children identified with ASD have average to above average intellectual ability. ASD has a tendency to run families. Children born to ASD fathers have a higher chance of having the condition due to the inheritance of certain genetic mutations.

The total economic cost per year for children with ASD in the United States was estimated to be between $11.5-$60.9 billion USD. This economic cost is increasing every year as medical cost, education cost and loss of the economic productivity of the parents rises.

When our next generation of ASD children have their own children, the number of children with ASD can potentially rise exponentially. As a society, we will have to face the ASD epidemic in new ways.

Fortunately, Artificial Intelligence has the potential to help children with ASD to overcome limitations and thrive.

Can you imagine working side by side with a colleague who has ASD?

Our workplace of the future, with the assistance of AI, will make this a reality. This is great news for people with ASD and their famillies. One of the key issues that parents of kids with ASD struggle with is the migration into society during teen years. There’s a specific set of life skills that a person with ASD needs to learn in order to live more independently from his/her family.

ASD is a spectrum disorder.

This means that a person who is affected by the disorder may be affected in different ways. The heterogeneity of the disorder (the wide spectrum of the disorder) makes treatment especially difficult. Therapists have to devise individual plans for each individual person with ASD. This also means any tools and learning environments developed for a person with ASD must be flexible and tailored to that person’s individual needs.

Being able to learn life skills easily and efficiently, then being able to use these life skills to assimilate to the traditional workplace will allow for people with ASD to live better in society. It will also allow society to lower the cost of caring for people with ASD.

AI-Powered Life Skill Tools

Brain Power is a company that’s designing AI solutions that respond to emotions. Their flagship product, Empower Me teaches social and cognitive skills to people with autism through emotional recognition. Empower Me runs on any smart glasses. When a child or an adult wears the glasses, it sees and hears special feedback geared toward the situation. The digital coach helps the wearer to interpret facial expressions of emotions, when to look at people and gives feedback of wearer’s own state of stress or anxiety.

Empower Me allows someone with ASD to function better independently out in the world. It is one of the first products to allow a person with ASD to interact effectively in a traditional workplace setting.

QTrobot — QTrobot is a humanoid social robot to help children with ASD learn to with social skills. Therapists can easily program the robot for a special set of skills and instructions to tailor learning for the individual patient. Children with ASD have oversensitivity issues when interacting with other humans. Since they are unable to interpret the nonverbal communication that is often involved in interactions with another human being, they are often overwhelmed by these interactions. Learning from a robot instructor who does not display all the skills that children with ASD can not interpret can be a very soothing experience. Children with ASD can focus on learning the materials presented by the robot instructor without distractions.

AI-Powered Diagnosis

Along with learning life skills, AI can also help parents in the early stages of the Autism journey. One of the biggest challenges for parents of children with ASD starts at the beginning of the Autism journey. ASD is a spectrum disorder that affects each child differently. Often, the wait for an autism diagnosis alone is nerve-racking. Imagine having to take your child to multiple professionals for multiple appointments to receive a diagnosis. Often, the entire “diagnosis” process can take years. Early intervention is the biggest factor in determining a successful outcome for children with ASD. The wait is not only grueling on the parents. It also prevents children from receiving early intervention that can potentially change their outcome.

Cognoa is a company that recently received FDA approval for its Autism diagnosis tool. Cognoa’s precision health platform uses parent’s input of behavior information, combined with machine learning and predictive analytics to provide parents with diagnosis and care options. This tool can provide parents with a diagnosis or care options while waiting for a diagnosis for their child. This tool is empowering parents to face their children’s challenges head on rather than playing the waiting game. In turn, it can change the outcomes of many children with ASD by getting them the critical help that they need earlier in their lives.

Future Work Place

The future is bright for people with ASD. The workplace of the future is slowly being transformed.

Auticon is an IT service provider who specializes in hiring people with autism. In fact, a majority of Auticon’s employees are people with ASD. Having a workplace with a majority of the employees are people with ASD means that these employees can often empathize with their peers on ASD specific challenges. A colleague might flare his arm to concentrate on his task. His colleagues will not think twice about it or take it as a hostile act. With a culture of acceptance of ASD, oversensitivity issues related to people with ASD can be accommodated. People with ASD have sensitivities to lights, sounds, and emotions. In a workplace of acceptance, people with ASD need to take frequent breaks to rest their mind and detox from overwhelming emotions. At Auticon, there’s a long couch where employees can nap during lunch time. They also play ping-pong at the conference table. In some offices, employees work without artificial light in pitch darkness with only light illuminating from their computers.

With a company such as Auticon setting the example, large technology companies such as Microsoft and Google are making accommodations to people with ASD.

This is just the beginning.

With more people realizing the potential of this untapped work force, accommodations for people with ASD in the work place can potentially become the standard in the next 10 years.


Future is bright for people with ASD.

The Age of Artificial Intelligence is ushering in a new wave of technological advancements that will help to unleash a new kind of freedom and independence in the lives of people with ASD. With the right help, people with ASD can thrive. With the right help, parents of children with ASD can dream of a brighter future for their children.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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