You’ve reached Mihaela’s page summarising her PhD project on the design and evaluation of technology for supporting pretend play in children with autism.
A fascinating activity, pretend play (also known as imaginary or symbolic play) is generally thought of as an important part of children’s learning. In particular, pretend play is considered helpful for the development of language, social and educational abilities of a child.
In pretend play children “add” an imaginary world on top of reality. They build imaginary worlds by acting out stories from different points of view, and in playful interactions with objects, actions and events. Somehow magically, the bear toy is thought of as if it was alive, an empty cup as if containing tea, and your child as the best cook ever.
Children with autism find it difficult to show or engage in pretend play. For instance, when provided with toys most children with autism are interested in particular items or the physical properties of the items (e.g. whether doll’s head can be turned all the way around) rather than using them in an imaginary way. In cases where children show some forms of pretense these are less complex, less varied and frequent than those of children without autism. Also, children with autism are less likely to share their play with others or to be interested in peers.
Lately, technology has gained attention, especially in the field of education, as a result of being particularly appealing for young children and adolescents with autism and for its potential in providing opportunities to develop some of their missing skills.
In respect to pretend play, there is a very limited number of such technology-based supports. One such instance is explored in a recent research where, modern technology (i.e. Augmented Reality) was used to support pretend play in children with autism. The results of this work suggest that Augmented Reality has potential to facilitate pretending in young children with autism. Although encouraging, this research is at the beginning. Very little is known about how such technology should be designed to best support children and those working with them in promoting pretend play.
It aims to answer the following questions:
- How is pretend play promoted in current practices with children with autism?
- What type of scaffolding and fading strategies are (or could be) used to promote pretend play in children with autism in practice?
- How should technology be designed to scaffold pretend play in children with autism?
- What are the effects of using such technology in pretend play with children with autism?
Dragomir, M. (2016). Pretend Play in Autistic Children: Technology as Facilitator. Accepted at the 2016 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play. ACM.
Dragomir, M. (2016). Using technology to explore prompting strategies for eliciting pretend play in children with autism. Presented at the 15th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, Manchester, UK: ACM.
Dragomir M., Fletcher-Watson S., Manches A., Pain H. (May, 2017). Design of an Interactive Pretending System for Young Children with ASC. In the Extended Abstract of IMFAR, San Francisco, USA. [Abstract]
Dragomir, M. Pain, H., Fletcher-Watson, S., Manches, A. (November, 2016). Facilitating Pretend Play in Autism through Augmented Reality Prompts. Poster Session presented at the SICSA PhD Conference, Glasgow, UK.
Dragomir, M. Pain, H., Fletcher-Watson, S., Manches, A. (November, 2016). Facilitating Pretend Play in Autism through Augmented Reality Prompts. Presented at the SICSA PhD Conference, Glasgow, UK.
Dragomir, M. Pain, H., Fletcher-Watson, S., Manches, A. (2015).Exploring prompting strategies designed to support pretend play for children with autism, through technology. Presented at the SICSA Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Doctoral Consortium (DC), Dundee, UK.
Based on related work and empirical data collected from a series of exploratory studies including
- observations of practitioners using play interventions with children with autism in schools,
- discussions with practitioners (with experience in working with children with an autism diagnosis) around their practices, what works and what doesn’t work in facilitating pretend play,
- design workshops with human-computer interaction experts and practitioners,
- testing and discussions with typically developing children and nursery teachers,
I have built a working prototype of a tool. This will be used to explore the effects of technology on pretend play and social-interaction behaviours in children with autism (if any). I are now looking to test and gain feedback on from both practitioners and children with autism. So, I am currently seeking to collaborate with a classroom/school (teacher, assistants, pupils) to work with on this stage. If you are interested, please, get in touch.