Mike Culligan
Creative Computing / Year 4

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Mike Culligan

Mike Culligan

Creative Computing

Year 4

  • Project Title Interaction — Building Social Interaction Skills through Trust for Mild young adult Autistic users
  • Course BSc [Hons] Creative Computing
  • Year 4
  • Contact Info mikejculligan@hotmail.com

Interaction — Building Social Skills via Trust for Autistic Users

The aim of this project was to build an application that would allow young adults with mild autism, such as Asperger’s, to build their social interaction skills. Even adults with only mild autism can have impaired social interaction skills. Interaction allows users to play social interaction activities with other users in real-time, such as a Chat Window or an Emotion Recognition activity. By building trust and their social skills through their comfort area of IT, their social interaction skills will improve.

Project Description

Interaction grew from a desire to allow autistic users to use the comfort area of IT to tackle the difficult area of social interaction. Mild autism on the high-functioning end can lead to impaired social interaction skills. Lately, more people on the spectrum have a preference for IT. They favor the increased control they have compared to the unpredictability of face-to-face social interactions. Social interaction difficulties boil down to trust, so Interaction incorporates this directly. Users can have confidential, adjustable Trust Ratings of other users. As users perform activities, their trust will build and they will engage in more Activity types requiring higher Trust Ratings. Though intended for autistic users, the application can be used by anyone to build trust or social skills. The application is coded in HTML, CSS, JavaScript & PHP. PHP is used for accessing the MySQL database for enabling user features and Trust Ratings. Socket.IO and Node.JS facilitate server-side communication between users in real-time for the Interaction Activities. Stored in the database, Trust Ratings are accessed or created when a user views them. They work both ways, so a first user has a Trust Rating of a second user, and that second user has a Trust Rating of the first user. The Interaction Activities work through passing data through the server. The Emotion Recognition activity allow one user to draw a facial emotion and the other user to guess what it is. The eight core emotions provided range from simple ones such as Sadness, Anger or Joy to more complex emotions such as Surprise or Anticipation. Users are kept interacting by the first user being able to provide tips should the second user guess wrong. Recognizing emotions is another area autistic people can struggle with, so the activity reflects traditional skill-building activities for autistic users by design.

Project Findings

The aim of Interaction was to allow high-functioning autistic users to play Interaction Activities with one another, thus developing their social interaction skills. User Testing was overwhelmingly positive; most issues cited were small technical ones or minor issues of clarity. Users felt the Interaction Activities showed real potential, even beyond the target user group. While the application had technical issues due to using both PHP and Node.JS that were solved, as well as necessitating compromises by cutting the number of Activities implemented, the findings speak strongly of the application’s goals for its target user group, and speaks positively of future development for Interaction.

Mike Culligan
Creative Computing / Year 4