Facilitate Autism Research and Improve Your Child’s Social Skills with the “Guess What?” Mobile App

If you’re a parent or a caregiver of someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you know that many of people with this disorder struggle with social skills and recognizing emotions. You’re also probably aware that early diagnosis and intervention makes a huge difference for most children with ASD. So if you had the opportunity to improve your child’s social skills and help other children get diagnosed early too, wouldn’t you take it?

Well, here’s your opportunity. Stanford University has developed a special charades app called the “Guess What?” app that you can use to help your child with their social responsiveness, and playing it could allow you to help advance autism research at the same time!

Stanford University’s Wall Lab wants to extend an invitation to our readers, particularly to parents of children with autism, to use their free Guess What? app and help advance Standford’s autism research. The Wall Lab gets your data to help with their study, and you get to see the improvement in your child’s social responsiveness scores—not to mention a $50 Amazon gift card! It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Photo: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University

If you’d like to participate, you must be a parent or guardian to a child with ASD between the ages of three and 12, and you must be over 18 years old yourself. You can enroll your child on the webpage and then download the app. Getting started is pretty self-explanatory; you’ll be asked to create an account and fill out a survey before you download the app, and then you’ll be good to go. Just use the app with your child three times per day, three days per week, for four weeks, for a total of 36 sessions. When you and your child use the app, your phone will record videos of the activities, which you’ll then have the opportunity to send to Stanford to help researchers learn more about how young people with autism behave and communicate.

After you’re done with 36 sessions—which only amount to about an hour of total gameplay—you’ll do an exit survey, and your part in the research will be complete. Then you’ll receive a $50 Amazon gift card to compensate you for your time, and you’re free to continue using the app however you and your child would like!

Left: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University
Right: Flickr/Cindy Shebley

Now let’s talk more about how the app works and how it can benefit your child. After you sign up or log in, you can use the default player or create a new player for your child. This way, if you have multiple kids who’d like to play, each of them can be a separate player and keep track of their high scores.

Photo: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University

The app has two gameplay modes—charades challenge and quiz challenge, also called the toddler challenge. The charades challenge is a more difficult level meant for older children (4+), while the quiz challenge is for those children who have not yet graduated beyond shapes, colors, and other basic concepts (2+).

Within the charades challenge, children get to act out a wide variety of concepts, as prompted by pictures of animals, emotions on people’s faces, emotions on emoji faces, gestures, jobs, sports, dances, or special holiday items that fit the current season. This game prompts the child to imitate social and emotion-centric concepts to improve their social skills.

Photo: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University

When the 90-second timer starts, the parent places the phone on their forehead so that the photo and associated word are facing the child. The child must act it out until the adult manages to guess what it is. When the answer is correct, the adult tips the phone screen downward to record a correct answer. To pass, the phone screen must be tipped upward. The child’s score will be displayed on the screen as they play, and they can compete against their own high score.

Within the toddler challenge, on the other hand, kids can work on their colors, numbers, shapes, and spelling and compete against their own high scores. In this version of the game, the parent and the child look directly at the phone screen together as the child works to answer simple questions. As before, the adult should tip the phone screen down each time the child gets an answer right and should tip it up to skip a question.

At the beginning of each game (in both gameplay modes), the child gets to pick from a variety of gifs to be their “prize” at the end of the round to help motivate them to play. Finishing a 90-second round prompts the chosen gif to play on the screen as a reward for the child.

Photo: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University

So far, preliminary research results show that playing the app for a month improves Social Responsiveness Scale-2 scores for children with autism spectrum disorder. And when you send your child’s videos to Stanford’s Wall Lab for analysis, they can use it to inform their diagnostic algorithms, which are currently greater than 90% accurate in detecting autism characteristics.

Photo: “Guess What?,” a mobile app for autism research by The Wall Lab at Stanford University

Luckily, if you aren’t a parent or guardian of someone with autism, you can still try out the app and recommend it to others. Anybody can use the free app by simply downloading it from the Google Play or the app store on their mobile device.

Follow the Wall Lab and the Guess What? App on Facebook for future updates!

Have you tried this app? Tell us how you liked it and what changes you have seen in your child in the comments!

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