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University to develop computer game for autism

The University of Bedforshire has been awarded a large grant to develop the game for children with communication disorders such as autism

Posted by Charley Rogers | September 12, 2017 | Technology

The University of Bedfordshire has been awarded a large grant to conduct a feasibility study into whether a computer game aimed at helping youngsters with communication disorders could be rolled out across the NHS.

The University has been awarded £252,000 by the National Institute for Health Research to develop the E-PLAYS project, in collaboration with North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT).

E-PLAYS is a computer game aimed at 4-7 year-olds in mainstream schools, some of whom may have communication disorders such as autism. Children work in pairs and are guided by the game on how to communicate most effectively and collaborate to find ‘hidden treasure.’

The results of our pilot are very encouraging and moving forward we want to see if it would be feasible to roll E-PLAYS out to other NHS trusts and beyond into schools. - Dr Suzanne Murphy, University of Bedfordshire

A previous pilot study showed that children with social communication impairments improved on a communication test, on their use of questions and directives and on their enjoyment of social interaction. In addition, children without social communication impairments who participated also benefitted; afterwards showing a more positive attitude to collaborating with classmates with social communication impairments. 

The team are now looking to run a study to establish whether they could recruit enough speech and language therapists and children from NHS trusts for a full-sized trial. Speech and language therapists from NELFT would train teaching assistants in mainstream primary schools to use E-PLAYS with their students in order to see the results.

Project lead Dr Suzanne Murphy from the University said: “Children with social communication impairments can struggle to communicate appropriately in social settings, which can have a profound effect on their social development, mental health, and education and can lead to bullying, isolation and school exclusion.

“E-PLAYS aims to encourage children to work together in a fun, engaging way and break down some of the barriers that children with communications disorders might face. The results of our pilot are very encouraging and moving forward we want to see if it would be feasible to roll E-PLAYS out to other NHS trusts and beyond into schools.”

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