The Friendship Explorer

The Friendship Explorer is an educational tablet game for children with Autism. It offers a safe space to practise social interactions and understand social conventions. The design is based on relevant literature, participatory design studies and expert feedback. It was evaluated in three studies and shows that the proof-of-concept project is suitable for autistic children.

School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Friendships represent a great part of our everyday lives as they teach self-perception and emotional literacy from early childhood. For autistic children, however, social relationships, and social skills in general, pose a challenge. Related research successfully presents technology-based approaches to teach social skills to children with autism. Game-based approaches for educational purposes promise positive effects on a child’s learning.
A virtual game environment for teaching social conventions and interactions to children with autism was developed and evaluated, combining both technology and game-based methods of teaching. The design of the game was informed by relevant literature, participatory design studies with typically developing children, and expert feedback. The Friendship Explorer offers a practice space for social interactions with in-game characters, rules for skill generalisation, and attractive rewards.
Evaluated by three studies, a post-intervention survey, participatory game testing studies with typically developing children, and a mixed study with experts, the game has been found promising to improve social skills. Further, it offers several ways to easily extend the functionality, increase the fun factor and improve the learning effect.