Serious Gaming for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Duration: 11 weeks
Client: Shosho, Kentalis
Team: Lennart Overkamp, Marta Kaczmarczyk, Guilherme Baptista de Moura
My roles: User-research, concept development, illustration, prototyping, usability testing

Introduction

Children with the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties with recognizing emotions, with understanding the meaning of emotions in a social context and with responding appropriately to emotions of others. Because of these difficulties, autistic children’s long-term development and performance within society are impaired.

Children with ASD are often educated in special schools, such as Kentalis. Kentalis applies multiple methodologies to teach social interaction and communication skills to these children. However, teaching autistic children to overcome their difficulties is challenging, and places a large burden on teachers.

Shosho, an Amsterdam based digital studio, has been working with Kentalis on digital solutions during a long term project. This digital solution is meant to help children with ASD in their development, and at the same time reduce teachers’ workload. Together with Shosho we worked on this project for a period of eleven weeks.

Our project goal was twofold. First, we aimed to design a serious game to teach autistic children to recognize, understand and respond to emotions. Second, we explored different types of multimedia interactions that could act as a ‘game controller’ to select emotions as an input for the game.

Process

At the start of the project we organized a meeting with the stakeholders of the project to discuss the problem statement and our expectations. During this meeting we conducted a workshop where we discussed the who, when, why and where of the problem. The goal was to make sure that there was a clear problem statement on which everybody agreed. Once the problem was clear we conducted competitor analysis and user research on our end-users. We performed multiple co-creation sessions with teachers and experts from Kentalis. We evaluated and iterated on the solutions that resulted from these sessions.

We developed a prototype of a point-and-click game that teaches autistic children understanding of emotions and consequences of their own behavior. Multiple times throughout the game, the child has to choose a combination of facial expression (e.g. happy or angry) and verbal response (e.g. rude or polite) that is appropriate for the specific in-game situation. Appropriate social behavior is rewarded with mini-games for increased engagement. Additionally, children are presented with a ‘quiz’ after each response, to teach them the link between their own responses and the responses of other characters.

We also explored possibilities for a game controller for emotion input. We used different theoretical models as a framework to create a tangible controller which could be used to intuitively scroll through and select emotions. After comparing many types of interactions (e.g. joystick, sliders) based on several theoretical models, we developed and tested Emotion Cubes. These cubes act as dice, with emotions or expressions rather than numbers. Since the emotions or expressions that are on top are shown on the game screen, these cubes can be used as game controllers by turning them over. Additionally, cubes could be combined to form complex emotions on screen. The emotion cubes were tested individually and in class room setting with ASD children at Kentalis, and were received with enthusiasm by the children and the teachers.

Result

Our work provided Shosho with valuable insights and prototypes to continue their work for Kentalis. Furthermore, our user tests showed opportunities for using serious games for autistic children in classroom settings, especially when combined with our Emotion Cubes.



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