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June 22, 2018
Razorthink published in AI Informed

Can AI Help Those with Autism Navigate a Neurotypical World?

Artificial Intelligence is capable of empowering people with many different abilities. Those with autism can find AI is able to help them take charge of their own lives. Children and adults on the autism spectrum are often stereotyped as non verbal, compared to Rainman, expected to preset like Temple Grandin, or shunted to the sides and the backs of rooms, with others awkwardly ignoring them.

However, those on the spectrum have all of the same traits as anyone else – including a sense of humor, the ability to feel empathy, and a need to communicate. Sometimes it’s simply locked away and needs a different route for expression.

Developers and designers are starting to keep this in mind when creating user experiences for those who are neuro-diverse, enabling them to interact in ways that make it easy for them to express themselves, and easy for those around them to understand.

AI has the potential to create more meaningful experiences for people on the autism spectrum; in fact, some children have already found success in interacting with digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Alexa – since the assistant doesn’t make any demands on the children and can be extremely consistent in responses, children on the spectrum can lean on their reliability and learn to communicate more readily .  

An assistant like Alexa or Siri makes communicating very straightforward for a child or adult who has difficulty interpreting nuanced body language, facial expressions, moods and other variables. AIs can also make home spaces safer for children with autism – parents can teach them to navigate ambient computing systems like Google Home and Apple Homepod.

Designers can make a difference

Making sure people on the autism spectrum have some input into user experience at the most basic levels is key to developing neuro-diverse friendly apps, chatbots, and other automated systems. Banking transactions, retail interactions, and customer assistance programs can be designed for use by anyone, including those on the spectrum, if designers are forward thinking and bring in a wide range of testers to provide actual input.

A website, mobile app, chat bot or skill for a digital assistant should be tested, retested, and refined. AIs can help build better AIs in this space, by using a broad tester base to repeat interactions and fine tune the system to be intuitive and straightforward.

Creating AIs which use Plain English (PE), avoid figures of speech and idioms, and modulate vocal variations can make it easier for matter of fact minded individuals to navigate without becoming confused.  

Interfaces with simple color schemes, short sentences, bulleted key information, and consistent, predictable layouts from screen to screen make them easier to navigate for anyone, and aesthetic value doesn’t have to be a casualty of simplified design.    

Inclusive design goes beyond “bolt on accessibility” and provides those with neuro diverse conditions the same excellent experiences as their neurotypical friends. Particularly in the mobile and tablet interface vertical, making applications geared for everyone leads to high user satisfaction across the board.

The number of people being diagnosed with autism or other neurological differences is increasing, and AI could be the answer to building tech that meets their needs.