Clinical Trial Finds Google Glass App Helped (Slightly) Improve Socialization of Autistic Children

While it continues to be an intriguing technology, Google Glass is not in wide use in healthcare today, though It’s far from dead,

Also, there’s still those who are exploring ways in which it might help patients, including the following study which seems to have generated some positive results. (There’s reason to be skeptical about these conclusions, however. More on this below.)

According to a recent paper published in JAMA Pediatrics, a group of researchers set out to find out whether Google Glass (which it describes as “a wearable artificial intelligence intervention designed for use in the home” ) would reinforce facial engagement and emotional recognition among children with autism spectrum disorder and thereby improve their social skills.

To address this question, researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial of 71 children with ASD. The trial evaluated the use of Superpower Glass, Google Glass software designed by tech firm Cognoa to improve autistic children’s social skills. Superpower Glass technology includes not only the Google Glass implementation but also a smartphone app.

The trial involved participants receiving either standard applied behavioral analysis therapy or ABA therapy and the use of the Superpower Glass technology in their homes. The children chosen for the study were 6 to 12 years old with a formal ASD diagnosis who had previously been receiving ABA therapy.

Families whose children were chosen to test Superpower Glass were asked to conduct 20-minute sessions at home four times per week for six weeks. Stanford personnel took measures of the children’s behavior periodically during this period.

When they analyzed the data from their observations, researchers found that children receiving the Glass intervention showed significant improvements in socialization when compared with those in traditional ABA treatment. Specifically, children receiving the Glass intervention saw a 4.58-point average gain on the Vineland Adaptive Behaviors socialization subscale. Gains were observed in other areas but weren’t statistically significant.

In the conclusion, the authors say that to their knowledge, this was the first randomized clinical trial demonstrating the efficacy of a wearable digital intervention to improve the social behavior of children with ASD, and promisingly, one which suggests that digital home therapy has the potential to augment traditional therapies successfully.

However, a big caveat regarding this study should be noted here.  According to an article in IEEE Spectrum, lead researcher Dennis Wall, an associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and biomedical data sciences with Stanford University, is Cognoa’s founder. Not only that, Cognoa holds an exclusive license from Stanford to commercialize the therapy, which gives it an incentive to slant the measurement data in favor of Superpower Glass.

All told, these relationships raise questions, for me at least, about the impartiality of the study. That being said, though, it’s hard to argue with the broader conclusion of the study, that digital health technologies can bring much to care in the home.  I’d just rather have seen this specific research done by parties with less interest in the outcome.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.