It is a little counter intuitive to go to an app to develop social interaction, but for children on the autistic spectrum it can be a safe place to practice. A playground is a socially complex environment with loads of distractions. We started thinking about how to highlight other children in the playground as potential playmates, and then how to reinforce the interaction.
We wanted to ensure the children recognised that the interactions need to be positive so making playmates smile is reinforced with stars/ ice cream/ appearance of fun pets. The game itself is a fun toy that is motivating for all children, there are bonus silly hats, a trip into space, musical bubbles and lots more to keep children engaged.
The game is gradated in so far that initially only one child needed to be happy, then 2,3,4, the penguin makes his own fun! In order to progress the child needs to identify the child looking sad and help to make them happier by helping them on slides, roundabouts etc. We included emotional facial recognition as some children on the spectrum need to practice identifying the emotional states of others.
The characters in the game can be customised to represent the children's real friends to help children to generalise to their peers. Rewards are also personalisable because children have different interests. Parents can record their own positive comment for when the children have played well.
Concepts of reinforcement are loosely based on an ABA style approach to autism, and the ipad does seem to be many children's highest reinforcer. We hope that this toy could be used in schools to facilitate group play and having play tested it extensively in both individual and group settings we feel it has some promise. The London Knowledge Lab has it on its list of potential masters research projects.
For now its a fun Toy aimed at both the neuro-typical and neuro-diverse. With feedback form the ASD community we hope to refine it to be a really helpful toy for children on the spectrum, so if anyone would like to try it for free I'm always happy to send out promo codes. Its called developing for a reason and feedback is everything! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-playground/id720938347?mt=8