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New Jersey Tech, IT Company to Develop Autism Device

Face Read app screen shot

Screen shot from Face Read 1, an app to help children with autism recognize facial expressions and emotions. (WebTeam Corp.)

21 March 2014. Engineers at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and WebTeam Corp. in Somerset, New Jersey are designing a device to help children with autism spectrum disorders develop basic educational skills. Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed, but NJIT and WebTeam will share the intellectual property arising from the project.

WebTeam develops educational software for special needs students, including children with autism spectrum disorders, from infants through teenagers. Autism spectrum disorders include autism, as well as several other related conditions such as Asperger syndrome, Rett’s disorder, and childhood disintegrative disorder. Symptoms of these disorders vary and range from mild to severe. In general, children with autism spectrum disorders have communication difficulties, show social impairment, and exhibit repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

Educating children with autism spectrum disorders requires special interventions building language and communication, social skills, daily living skills, cognitive skills, and techniques to reduce tantrums and aggression. WebTeam says the financial cost of dealing with autism and related conditions is estimated at $3.2 million over a person’s lifetime, which can be sharply reduced by early diagnosis and intervention.

The company, founded in 2005, develops autism screening software provided as mobile apps to help teachers evaluate students’ learning goals, and register observations to keep track of assessment results. The company also designs skill-building apps for children and adults with autism, and says since January 2012, its autism apps have registered 1.2 million downloads.

The project with NJIT will build a tactile-friendly device to provide learning experiences to children with autism spectrum disorders. The device is expected to to prompt children through their lessons and have built-in sensors to monitor responsiveness, assess cognition, and adapt further lessons based on the child’s interactions.

The outer form of the device, says NJIT, will be adjusted to met the individual needs of the children. For example, the device could be embedded in a familiar toy or interactive robot. The equipment in any form will be designed to work with WebTeam’s iLearnNEarn app software. The educational sessions are based on a curriculum built by Eden Autism Services, a not-for-profit organization in Princeton, New Jersey.

Engineering professor Atam Dhawan will lead the NJIT team, which is expected to include students working on a learning device for children with autism disorder since 2011. “WebTeam has developed the program,” says Dhawan in a university statement, “and we will deliver it, optimizing its interface, as well as its assessment, feedback, and response capabilities, while also capturing the data.”

Under the agreement, NJIT is filing a joint patent with WebTeam for new technology developed in the collaboration, as a supplement to WebTeam’s current patents on its software.

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