1st LD-Writethru: Researchers develop game app for autism treatment

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SHANGHAI, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Researchers from China and the U.K. are developing a game app based on artificial intelligence technology to help children with autism.

The game app, named "AI monkey", is co-developed by the Xinhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine and the University of Cambridge. The game is designed for autistic children aged between two and four, who can use this game for treatment at home.

The game is interactive and utilizes facial recognition technology. When a child looks at the face of the monkey in the game, the monkey will intimate the child's behavior and facial expression such as shaking its head or sticking out its tongue. If the child stops looking at the monkey or loses concentration, the monkey on the screen will disappear immediately, turning into fireworks to reattract the child's attention.

According to Li Fei from the hospital, early childhood brain development can be intervened and the time between two and four years old is the golden period of intervention for autistic children. High-frequency and high-quality training is vital for autism treatment but many families in China do not have access to it as it costs a lot of money.

This game will help them grasp the golden period of training to improve their condition, Li said.

Barbara J. Sahakian from the University of Cambridge, the leading designer of the game, said she drew inspiration from the game hide-and-seek, which helps autistic children develop social skills.

The game highlights social interactions including eye contact and facial expressions, which are essential for autism treatment, Sahakian said.

Sahakian has developed brain training games based on smart devices and demonstrated that those games are effective in improving the patients' cognitive ability and attention span.

Li said there is still a long way to go before the game go into the market and provide home-based treatment.

"We need to find out how many times a child needs to play the game every day and how much time is needed each time. We are also recruiting autistic children for clinical trials and conducting comprehensive assessments," Li said.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

The disease affects at least 10 million people in China including more than 2 million children, according to an industry report released in 2015. China has set up more than 1,800 treatment centers for treating children with autism. Enditem

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