AI game helps autistic children

Cai Wenjun
An app developed by Xinhua Hospital and University of Cambridge uses AI to help children with autism in a game of social learning.
Cai Wenjun

An app developed by Xinhua Hospital and University of Cambridge that uses artificial intelligence to help children with autism was unveiled on Tuesday.

The AI Monkey, which has a Chinese cartoon image of Monkey King, targets autistic children between 2 and 4 years old. Facial recognition and AI are used in a game of social learning.

In the game, each child looks at the face of the monkey, who can imitate the child’s facial expression. If they move their eyes away or lose concentration, the monkey vanishes from the screen and fireworks appear to re-attract their attention.

“Autistic children usually begin to show symptoms when they are 18 months old and are diagnosed with the condition at the age of 30 months. The period between 2 and 4 years of age is key for brain development, so proper intervention and training can control and improve their condition,” said Dr Li Fei from Xinhua Hospital.

“Autistic children can't process social feedback or communication well. Frequent, high-quality training is very important for them," she said. "Most families with autistic children can’t achieve the goal by themselves. The cost for the rehabilitation facilities are also too high for many of them.”

The game allows parents and children to train at home.

“It is based on game like peek-a-boo, while with elements to train their social brain. Eye contact and facial expressions are highlighted,” said Barbara Sahakian from University of Cambridge.

She said similar games for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and Alzheimer’s disease have seen positive effects.

About one in every 88 children in the United States have autism. There is no epidemiological survey in China, whose medical field usually said less than 1 percent of children in China suffer from autism. 

About 60 to 70 percent of autistic children have learning problems and 38 percent cannot take care of themselves and need lifelong care, experts said.

A doctor shows a child how the game works.

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