A significant therapeutic challenge for people with disabilities is the development of verbal and echoic skills. Digital voice assistants (DVAs), such as Amazon’s Alexa, provide networked intelligence to billions of Internet-of-Things devices and have the potential to offer opportunities to people, such as those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to advance these necessary skills. Voice interfaces can enable children with ASD to practice such skills at home; however, it remains unclear whether DVAs can be as proficient as therapists in recognizing utterances by a developing speaker. We developed an Alexa-based skill called ASPECT to measure how well the DVA identified verbalization by autistic children. The participants, nine children diagnosed with ASD, each participated in 30 sessions focused on increasing vocalizations and echoic responses. Children interacted with ASPECT prompted by instructions from an Echo device. ASPECT was trained to recognize utterances and evaluate them as a therapist would—simultaneously, a therapist scored the child’s responses. The study identified no significant difference between how ASPECT and the therapists scored participants; this conclusion held even when subsetting participants by a pre-treatment echoic skill assessment score. This indicates considerable potential for providing a continuum of therapeutic opportunities and reinforcement outside of clinical settings.
Original Publication Citation
Rechowicz, K. J., Shull, J. B., Hascall, M. M., Diallo, S. Y., & O’Brien, K. J. (2021). Internet-of-things devices in support of the development of echoic skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Sensors, 21(13), 1-12, Article 4621. https://doi.org/10.3390/s21134621
0000-0002-7561-9858 (Rechowicz), 0000-0003-2389-2809 (Diallo)
Rechowicz, Krzysztof J.; Stull, John B.; Hascall, Michelle M.; Diallo, Saikou Y.; and O'Brien, Kevin J., "Internet-of-Things Devices in Support of the Development of Echoic Skills Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder" (2021). VMASC Publications. 59.