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Children get social with virtual peers

Life-size 3-D versions of children can draw kids with autism into social encounters

4:54pm, June 8, 2009

PARK CITY, Utah — Children with autism and related developmental disorders typically can’t carry on a conversation or play cooperatively with peers. Encouragingly, though, life-size virtual youngsters displayed on large computer screens can draw kids with autism into social encounters, psychologist Justine Cassell of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., reported June 5 at a meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, which focuses on research about psychological development.

In a preliminary investigation, Cassell and her colleagues examined turn-taking and other conversational skills in 12 pairs of 7- to 11-year-olds. In six pairs, children with autism were partnered with peers of their choosing who had no developmental conditions. In another six pairs, youngsters free of developmental problems worked with partners who also had no developmental complications.

Participants had to use a toy castle and an array of other toys to tell a story, first with their

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