I started this project with general research on what is Autism and what teaching methods people are currently using for educating people with Autism.
What Is Autism
Autism is a life long developmental disability that affects how we communicate with, and relate to others. It affects how we make sense of the world around us. Lots of things that people take for granted like body language and metaphors, can be confusing and alienating for people with Autism.
Some of the people with autism have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language. Other people with autism have trouble with reading facial expressions and understanding jokes, sarcasm or emojis.
Most of the symptoms can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2
However, many children are still being diagnosed after age 4.
It is even harder to intervene in the symptoms when they become an adult.
The cause of Autism is unknown, and there is no cure. However, children with ASD benefit from an early educational intervention – the earlier, the better.
If the symptoms are caught earlier in the child's life, they can be visibly reduced with therapy.
These early symptoms of Autism have been found in children. I decided to focus on Poor Eye Contact.
Poor eye contact leads to a lack of recognizing facial expressions, which will result in a lack of social skills.
Based on research, there are two primary teaching methods for people with Autism, but they both have their own disadvantages.
The issue is there are only 3-4 images for each emotion; children can simply memorize the answer that matches without understanding the facial emotion.
This teaching method is designed to teach functional communication skills in real-life context with an initial focus on spontaneous communication, but not necessarily teaching emotion.
Children have challenges using what they learn in a sanitized clinical/school environment to the real world. I proposed ideas that were focusing on helping children understand emotion in a real-life context.
Physical facial booklet
Concept: Mix up facial features to create new emotions.
Intent: Help student understand individual parts that make up facial expressions.
Concept: Draw three cards from each deck to create a scene.
Intent: Help children learn the emotion as well as how to react to a situation.
Flashcard with Projection
Concept: A table with a projection and a camera on top. The camera captures what card you place on the table. If you get the answer that matches the emotion card, the projector will project a video that shows you a video with people expressing that emotion.
Feedback for Round 1 prototype
The suggestion I got was to simplify facial expressions. The reason why children have trouble recognizing facial expressions is that there are too many facial details for children to recognize. My prototypes put too much stress on people who already have difficulty making eye contact.
Based on the suggestion, I tried to think about what the simplified facial expressions look like, then that linked me to emojis. I was curious about how people with Autism use and understand emojis, so I ran a few interviews.
In order to further understand how much emojis affect autistic people, I reached out to people who have worked with autistic people, or people who suffer from autism, via email and Quora.
Based on interviews, most people with Autism who have had Facial Expression Training can understand emojis just fine.
Individuals who have trouble recognizing facial expressions find it difficult to recognize emojis; especially when others use a bunch of emojis together in different ways. These findings changed my direction entirely.
How might we ease the emojis learning curve for people with Autism to help them embrace and understand online communication?
With the interview insights in mind, I decided to shift my focus to emoji usage online. People with Autism communicate online more often, but are usually left out from conversation due to the lack of comprehension of emojis.
I decided to go for Emoji Keyboard because it is what people are currently using.
It will have more impact than trying to create a whole new app from scratch.