Polish experts are working on an electronic cube for autism therapy
An electronic cube with touch screens can help in the therapy of children with autism. Polish experts are working on the device. They say that through exercises that encourage children to imitate movement, the cube can increase the number of mirror neurons in the brain.
Nerve cells called mirror neurons have a key role in feeling emotions, empathy, learning through imitation. Scientists observe impaired function of these neurons in sight, hearing and motor centres of children with autism. That is why these children have difficulties learning through imitation and predicting various situations.
A healthy child usually has 40,000 mirror neurons in the motor cortex. In autistic children, there are only 15 thousand of them. Polish specialists are working on a device that will help increase the number of mirror neurons to 25-30 thousand and start the process of predicting and activating these neurons, which would improve the child`s independence.
Such a device may be an electronic cube with walls - with a length of 12 cm - made of touch screens. The movement of the cube is integrated with a virtual electronic cube displayed on the screen of a tablet, computer or smartphone. This is possible thanks to a set of sensors, software and camera that records the movement of the cube. Each movement is monitored by a program that checks its accuracy and correctness. The more cube movements the child repeats, the more difficult the game becomes.
There are two training options. One of them is repeating the movement of the virtual cube using a physical cube. "So we are observing the virtual cube and if it changes the side on which it lies, we try to immediately copy it with the physical cube" - says one of the creators of the cube, Dr. Adam Pabiś.
The second option uses delays, in which the virtual cube performs motion sequences and disappears. "The task is to perfectly mimic the movement. The cube can change its position from 3 to 60 times, so the complexity of movement increases with its correct repeating" - says Dr. Pabiś.
This kind of training - as the device creators say - makes mirror neurons learn, memorize repetitive movements, and after some time they can predict the next movement of the cube.
Experts from the Kinetic Center of Advanced Audiology, together with speech therapists and neuro-speech-language pathologists, tested the device for one month on a group of 35 children. They checked the children`s reactions to the cube and whether they would engage in training. According to Dr. Pabiś, 30 children finished the training. "Those who completed the training had a very good response" - he describes.
Further tests of the cube are planned for August. This time they will last half a year and will be conducted on a group of 100 children. The creators of the device will more accurately check the cube`s capabilities and long-term effects of its use.
Dr. Pabiś explains that the therapy with the cube should last several months, but its duration will be differently for each child. One child will need three months, another six months. According to the assumptions of the project, the therapy will be adjusted individually to the age and sex of the child. Before the start of therapy, the child`s cognitive processes, long-term and short-term memory capacity, vision, hearing will be examined. "A special diagnostic platform will allow to study the activity of mirror neurons and see if their population is large or small. On this basis, the training will be modified and adjusted to each patient" - explains the scientist.
The creators of the device would like to launch global production of the cube, including the US and Chinese markets. That is why they plan to conduct more extensive research.
They want make the cube available through on-line orders. Parent will be able to order the cube with software. However, if parents do not feel comfortable using it, they can go to professional centres where these devices will be used. "Initially we will provide parents with 60 cubes to see how they handle the functionality of the cube at home and whether something needs to be changed" - says Dr. Pabiś.
PAP - Science in Poland
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