Our group set out to address the problem of delayed and/or deficient acquisition of prosody in children with ASD. Children with ASD often have difficulty with prosodic cues, which can lead to miscommunication and other potential problems, such as social difficulties. There are many types of therapies for children with ASD in order to improve the acquisition of prosody, like music, dance, or articulation therapy. However, access to therapy can be out of reach for many families, whether it is due to lack of access, time, or money. Additionally, because there are so many different types of therapy used for children with ASD, yet therapists are usually only trained in one method. Children who would benefit more from different types of therapies may be disadvantaged depending on the solutions available to them.
Our moonshot solution is to create an interactive AI application that can combine different types of therapies and respond to the children’s progress. The app would be almost like an interactive game that children can play. There would be a cartoon-like character that the child is interacting with in order to practice and improve on things like intonation, tone, stress, etc. To avoid the child getting bored of the game as they get older and spend more time on it, the game could “level up” as the child ages in order to keep up with their interests and needs. The user interface would also become more sophisticated and interactive as they get older. The app would be free for families and costs would have to be subsidized by things like taxes or paid for by schools.
We contacted experts in order to get feedback about our moonshot solution. Unfortunately, none of our experts replied by the time the blog post was due so we decided to explore potential issues that our solution might have.
One potential problem with the feasibility of our proposed solution is developing an app that is actually functional enough to operate as a therapy tool. At least in the demo stage, there could be bugs getting in the way of making it an effective tool that schools would want to incorporate into their curriculum. This could also be frustrating to children, and not useful in improving their prosody. In order to solve this problem, we would have to analyze the children's production and comprehension data from the app consistently in order to make sure that the app actually helps children acquire and develop prosody over the course of the child’s life.
Additionally, the cost of developing the app and adding it onto a platform would likely need to be subsidized by schools or taxes. We want to make the program accessible to all children, especially those in the public education system. Given the low budgets of many school districts, we don’t know if schools would opt for the program. As a result, there could be an issue with having a sufficient budget to even keep the app running. From our research, we have found that there is a national fund for non-profit organizations willing to provide a budget for educational programs in order for them to get started, which goes by the name of “Investing in Innovation”. This is provided by the US Department of Education, and our program would qualify for this type of funding.
Another issue that we haven’t addressed yet is how we would publicize the app, to make it accessible for all the children that need to use it. We want to make sure that this app can be used both in the public school system, but also by parents with younger children that don’t go to school yet. In order to combat this problem we would have to take advantage of the internet and social media. Researching this problem, we found that there are many online groups for parents of children with ASD. We could promote our app through those online groups, but also on applications like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as most people are on at least one of these platforms.
Finally, an issue that may arise is the excessive use of screen time. We are aware that it is unhealthy for children, specifically younger children, to be exposed to a screen for a long amount of time. In order to address this problem, we did research on what would be the suitable screen time limit for each age group. We also hope to get in touch with experts to get additional advice. Originally, we had planned that the youngest age would start at 12 months. After doing research, we realized that screen media should be avoided for children younger than 18 months. So, we decided that our first age group would be 18 months to 2 years old and their screen time would be limited to 30 minutes per day. For children aged 2-5 screen time will be limited to 1 hour per day, and for children older than five the screen time limit will be 2 hours. This way, we can assure that children will not get negatively affected by excessive screen time.