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Virtual Children

February 19, 2008

“Virtual” children may help prepare kids with high-functioning autism to interact with their peers.


Virtual kids help real kids thrive. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome often have difficulty with social interactions. Now scientists at Northwestern University have designed life-size, animated "virtual children" to help them. Children with Asperger’s engaged in storytelling with both virtual children and real peers. According to new media technologist Justine Cassell, the children displayed more advanced social skills when interacting with virtual children than they did with real children. Then they were given control of the virtual child while it interacted with a real child.

JUSTINE CASSELL (Northwestern University):
It’s a way of allowing that child to experiment with social interaction without having to feel the heat of that social interaction face to face.

The next step will be to test whether experiences with virtual children prepares kids with Asperger’s to interact with real peers. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.