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New Game Hopes to Help Children on the Autism Spectrum

As you guys know, I’m all about games that help people IRL. Whether by destigmatizing mental illness (Depression Quest) or teaching healthy coping mechanisms (SuperBetter), I’m more excited than ever about the therapeutic potential of videogames.

Which brings me to Social Clues. Aimed at helping children on the autism spectrum, Social Clues is simultaneously a puzzle game and a therapy tool. Currently in development by a team of 35 University of Southern California students at the USC Games program, you can check out the trailer above!


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Kids assume the roles of particiPETE or communiKATE (how cute is that) and use “social clues” to solve puzzles. By combining fun gameplay with “some of the most widely used behavioral therapies,” it hopes to encourage these children, who often have difficulty communicating, to develop an awareness of social cues.

Social cues are something most of us take for granted. Without even realizing we’re doing it, we read and interpret minute changes in each others’ facial expressions and body language, to which we respond accordingly.

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Unfortunately, those on the autism spectrum have greater difficulty reading and interpreting social cues. They might not understand that you’re angry or sad, even though you clearly look/sound it. One of the minigames in Social Clues teaches children to match a facial expression to its corresponding emotion.

Another teaches children to make eye contact. Eye contact is tricky because it’s culturally relative: in some places, not making eye contact is a sign of respect. But here in America, for better or for worse, making eye contact is expected, and to not do so is considered rude. Social Clues encourages kids to make eye contact when talking to someone, which is something many on the autism spectrum have trouble with.

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Social Clues is currently being developed for iPad and other mobile devices. According to project lead Jeremy Bernstein:

What we’re trying to do is break down everyday interactions into something very understandable, very manageable. We’re basically giving our players a road map they can use offline.

Therapeutic tools that are both fun and educational? What better approach than videogames!

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