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Serious Games Developing Social Skills In Children With Autism

Social Clues is a puzzle-adventure Serious Game for the iPad focused on person-to-person communication to help children with autism and developmental disabilities improve social skills.

Social Clues is the brainchild of husband and wife team Karen Okrent M.S. CCC-SLP and Jeremy Bernstein, USC MBA Candidate 2014. Karen, a Speech Language Pathologist, works daily with students with autism and developmental disabilities teaching pragmatics and communication skills. Jeremy, a marketing and creative-industry focused MBA candidate, previously worked in animation and advertising in addition to directing a special-needs social activities program. 

Today the Social Clues multidisciplinary team is comprised of therapists, engineers, game designers, artists and musicians.Development is based out of the University of Southern California, but members contribute from across the country. Team members have professional work experience at renowned companies such as Disney Animation, Nickelodeon Studios and Microsoft. 

The game presents an interactive narrative in which players’ choices (actions and dialogue) advance the story and affect the outcome. Players control Pete and Kate Mum as they search for their lost toys while exploring 3D storybook levels based on real-world situations.

In order to find the lost toys, players need to navigate conversations, and problem-solve everyday scenarios such as waiting in line, dealing with flexibility, and joining a group. Pragmatic lessons and social learning goals are purposefully chosen for each level and character type, and are re-enforced through gameplay.

Maintaining conversations

Recognizing others’ emotions

Players’ actions are tracked utilizing behavioral metrics that allow parents and therapists to monitor players’ skills progress and behavioral change. Analytics show trend lines for both skills development and decline, enabling parents to build customized levels tailored to their child's needs. 

Social Clues provides an engaging cast of characters, thought-provoking scenarios and fun mini-games that teach and model behaviors for application in everyday lives.

Social Clues is being developed initially for the Apple iPad, with future potential for additional touch screen devices and platforms.

A Curriculum Built On Evidence-Based Practices

Many interventions exist for autism, but only a few have been proven effective through scientific research; these interventions are called “evidence-based practices”. The learning objectives, and key gameplay mechanics, in Social Clues have been developed from the ground up using core principles of several “evidence-based practice” interventions, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Errorless Learning, Social Narrative, and Discrete trial training (DTT).