Social Skills Program Helps Children Experience Real Life Situations Virtually
Often, learning social skills is a natural thing — communicating feelings, talking about needs and wants, and understanding and showing empathy. But sometimes these things don’t always come so naturally for children, especially those on the autism spectrum or who have shown problems adjusting to social situations.
Chris Dudick and Bernadette Mullen are making huge strides in developing and using technology that can help children feel more comfortable expressing emotions, communicating feelings, and talking about things that are difficult for them.
Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software (SiLAS)
Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software (SiLAS) is a software developed by Chris, using the curriculum Bernadette wrote that allows kids with social learning challenges to understand social skills through a curriculum-based learning program. The curriculum Bernadette developed was driven by her years of experience working as a speech-language pathologist. SiLAS uses video game controllers and headset microphones to control 2D cartoon avatars that have the ability to express emotions.
“Students can select their favorite characters in an effort to represent themselves on screen,” said Chris. “The avatars use facial expressions to show emotion.”
This allows students to experience different social situations they might encounter in real life and then choose an appropriate response. Students can practice new skills that may be difficult for them in reality in a virtual world where they feel more comfortable. The software records their skit and saves it as a movie file the student can watch and learn from again.
“If students are shy or have problems interacting in different social situations, this software can help them practice and rehearse so it’s a little less intimidating when faced with the real situation,” said Chris. “Students get to watch how they sound and how they act on screen.”
The Team Behind This Social Skills Program
The team of Bernadette, a speech pathologist, and Chris, a multimedia and technology expert, makes the creation of SiLAS firmly grounded in curriculum that has been proven to help students learn and build social skills. The two identified a need to address and help those children who struggled to understand and learn important social skills.
“Children who have a difficult time learning social skills often gravitate toward the computer and technology,” said Chris. “We realized we could put the two together.”
Often children with autism and other social disabilities are taught social skills through workbook programs and other social skills curriculum on the market. But Chris and Bernadette believe this approach doesn’t give children the opportunity for the level of interaction and rehearsal needed to continually learn important individual social skills.
“Applications can provide learning opportunities, but they do not promote the practice and review of real life socialization and verbal exchange as SiLAS does,” said Chris.
With autism on the rise, the need for new and innovative products to teach social skills is vital. Chris and Bernadette hope to bring their software to public and private schools, afterschool programs, hospitals, pediatric private practices and clinics to help them stay on the cutting edge of social skills technology.
“SiLAS is the newest thing out there for social skill learning,” said Chris. “We’re changing with the times and we’re not using 30-year old curriculum.”