Social interactions are awkward to nearly impossible for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Understanding both communication content and context requires the ability to process incoming cues while simultaneously understanding words. The latest CDC statistics cite a 1 in 68 person incidence of ASD in children. We have written about Awake Labs’ Reveal and Lancaster University’s Snap wristbands, both designed to reduce anxiety in people with ASD. Those wearables focus on alleviating emotional reactions to interaction difficulties, but they do not address the source of the problem.

Researchers at the University of Toronto‘s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBE) are developing social-skills coaching software to help people with ASD handle social interaction. The software works with optical head-mounted displays such as Google Glass. The IBBE team published a paper in Frontiers in Robotics and AI that explains how the software works. The study also reports children with ASD who used the program, called Holli, found it easy and enjoyable. Holli “listens” to conversations and prompts an appropriate reply on the optical display. The prompt disappears when the software “hears” the user’s response.

The key to programs such as Holli is accessibility for everyday use. Google Glass serves as a research and development platform for head-mounted displays. Applications in which users wear helmets or headsets are prime for optical coaching. Kids in school or adults in the workplace, however, will rightly push back if asked to wear odd-looking glasses or headgear. As developers working on stylish, “normal”-looking smart glasses bring their products to market, programs such as Holli should have a better chance of making it into mainstream use.