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Our goal was to design a technology that allows educators to build engaging activities for kids on the autism spectrum and, at the same time, a tool to collect information to be used in the therapeutic context.
In the field of special education, paper is often praised as versatile tool to mediate activities because of (i) its readiness: there no need to setup any equipment; (ii) its versatility: you can use materials with different expressive possibilities (watercolors, crayons, …) and (iii) the easiness of sharing the tool (for helping the child or for prompting new material).
Inspired by the idea of augmenting the paper and the paper-related activities, we focus on the following design objectives:
- Design objective 1: augment standard sheets of paper with the possibility of recording the audio from the oral narration of the children and the therapists
- Design objective 2: make the computer to disappear from the experience: this would reduce distractions by the child and maintain the naturalness of the therapist/child interaction.
- Design objective 3: easy to configure, the system should require no calibration or cumbersome preparation activities: the readiness of the paper should be preserved.
The “Magic Lamp” looks like a standard desktop lamp. Inside the lamp, a camera replace the light bulb that can “see” the sheet of paper on the table.
The system is operated by a set of physical tokens that can be managed by the therapists and the children themselves. Thus, the interaction is realized by physical manipulation and the computer does never appear.
All interactions are stored in a database and they can be later accessed by the therapist for analysis.
Initial pilot studies were conducted with the AGSAT center for autism in Trento [Alessandrini, 2013] and a longer study is now being conducted at the Presidio Sanitario San Camillo in Torino, the Magic Lamp is currently in use by two therapists and involved 16 children.
The initial phase of the study (with 8 children) helped to finalize the design and to deploy a more robust tool. A controlled study is now undergoing and it is aimed at assessing the potentiality of the tool as an educational and therapeutic tool