Augmented Reality for People With Autism

A Cambridge-based company called Brain Power is using video games and tech to help people with autism

Sean Novick is thriving at Plymouth South Middle School. He wants to attend MIT one day because he loves math, but there are moments when he struggles.

"You're someone that doesn't fit in well," says Novick.

Novick is living with autism, a neurological disorder affecting more than 3 million families across the nation. While the range of conditions vary on the spectrum, making eye contact and reading facial expressions can be difficult. However, this all started to improve for the 13-year-old after he enrolled in a pilot program at Brain Power.

Novick is using a high powered computer in the smart glasses to play video games. Two players sit face to face and the environment intuitively changes. Whenever Sean makes more eye contact he's rewarded with points.

"I like talking to people when I feel relaxed," says Novick, crediting the game for helping him feel this way.

Founder and CEO Ned Sahin says it's personalized gaming to see the world in another way.

"We’re not trying force people to act a certain way. Our games are designed to master the daily human social interaction," he said.

Brain Power is part of a rapidly growing space called augmented reality, overlaying computer images in the real world.

Two years ago, this Cambridge, Massachusetts-based start up was only going through clinical trials. Now Sahin says they're ready to offer this innovative therapy to the public.

However, experts in the autism community caution, don’t expect this to solve everything.

"For example taking a shower, or learning skills that would assist you with dressing, I’m not sure glass has an application for things like that," says Dr. Katina Lawdis.

Lawdis says it’s just one of the many ways people like Sean could be supported. So one day he can live out his dreams, and do more than just try to fit in.

Brain Power’s entry level package costs roughly $900, not including the cost of the smart glasses. But the company says it will work with anyone who can’t afford it. Click here to learn more.

Researchers at Brain Power are also in the process of creating a new game that would help people experience what it's like being in the shoes of someone with autism.

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