New Video Game Helps Kids With Autism

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FaceMaze

A boy practices his facial expressions using FaceMaze. Image courtesy of FaceMaze.

An amazing new “video game” is helping kids with autism* show their emotions in their facial expressions.

Autism affects the brain’s development of social and communication skills. People with autism typically have difficulty recognizing facial expressions and emotions.

The new video game, called FaceMaze, was developed to help kids with autism recognize what certain emotions look like, and what they mean—for instance, smiling, frowning or looking sad.

The game was developed by scientists at two universities: the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

The video game looks and plays a lot like Pac-Man, a popular video game from the 1980s.

In FaceMaze, kids guide an avatar that looks like face through a maze to collect “candies.”

SmileMaze

An example of SmileMaze. Image courtesy of FaceMaze.

In order to get through the game and reach new levels, players have to look at the expression on a computer “face” and then try to make that expression themselves. It might be a happy face, a sad face, or a mad face.

A camera pointed at the player compares the player’s expression with the expression in the game. If they match, the player scores points.

The game is not only fun for kids, but it helps them to practice their emotions; how it looks and feels to smile, and what message it sends to people when someone smiles.

The people who developed the software also intend to develop an iPad application that people can use at home. That application will use pictures of real people’s faces (for instance, the player’s mom or dad) instead of avatars.

*In this article, we have used the term “autism,” but it’s even more accurate to use the term, “autism spectrum disorders (ASD).” The term ASD reflects the fact that people may be mildly, or severely affected by autism—or somewhere in-between.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Why do you think it is important to be able to “read” people’s facial expressions? What information can you get from people’s faces?

Now practice your facial recognition. Sit with a friend and make different expressions with your face, showing emotions such as angry, upset, excited, surprised, worried and sad. Have them guess what expression you are showing. Switch roles and try to figure out what emotions your friend’s face is showing.

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
Do you play video games? What types of games do you like to play? Why do you like them?

How do the video games that you play compare to FaceMaze? How are they similar/different?

Primary
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge and experience, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Grammar Feature: The ‘aw’ sound
There are a number of different ways the sound ‘aw’ can be made in English:
1. au – as in autism
2. ou – as in thought
3. aw – as in law
4. o – as in not

Create a list of words that include the ‘aw’ sound and identify what letters are used to make that sound.