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Aiding therapists in reducing social anxiety in students with high-functioning autism by enhancing their social skills.

Contributions:

Conducted extensive research to define problem space and project scope

Analysed the user data and identified key user needs and pain points.

Ideated 20+ solutions validated, conceptualised and visualised the final solution.

Contributed to designing intuitive user flows, wireframes, and engaging UI screens.

Conducted user evaluations and iterated on the design

Role:

Lead UX Researcher & Designer

Duration:

6 weeks

Tools:

Figma, Adobe Photoshop, MS Word, Zoom, Chatgpt

PROJECT OVERVIEW

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Project Context

The project aims to serve HANDS in Autism at IUPUI, focusing on the demand for innovative and impactful solutions to support individuals on the autism. It focuses on blending various therapeutic methods and personalizing interventions to cater to their unique needs.

Overview

Problem Domain

Students with High-functioning autism often struggle with social cues, conversational skills and adapting to new settings, resulting in decreased confidence and social anxiety.

To combat these issues, therapists use methods like social skills training and cognitive-behavioral therapy to enhance their social abilities and reduce anxiety. However, these efforts are often hindered by limited resources, time and skilled professionals, posing challenges in providing effective support to these students.

Challenge

"How might we collaborate with therapists to help students with high-functioning autism in overcoming their social anxiety while interacting in diverse social settings?"

Solution

Sociostic is an assistive learning tool tailored for students with high-functioning autism, facilitating social skill development through role-playing daily life social scenarios in simulated environment utilizing speech recognition and synthesis for effective peer interaction.

Thus, supporting therapists in guiding students using sociostic, enabling personalized skill development at their own pace and space, reducing social anxiety.

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A GLIMPSE OF FINAL SOLUTION

How each key elements make up the proposed solution?

Home Screen

Challenge

Face difficulties in sustaining attention, maintaining interest, and engaging with new activities.

Solution

Incorporating progress-highlighting features and preferred activities in the app will capture user interest and promote regular usage, while visual aids for daily life concepts speed up learning process.

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Report
Therapist Controls: Enables guardians of the children to monitor their child's progress which promotes user satisfaction 
Scenario tracker: Enables users to track their role-playing scenario progress and encourage continued participation for higher user engagement rates
Activity center: Enables users to engage in activities aligned with their interests, capturing and retaining their attention, leading to improved user retention rates.
Video library: Enables users to gain insights into real-world operations and daily life tasks, promoting higher user engagement 

MY UX WORKFLOW

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How did we reach the solution ?

Research
& Analysis
Ideation &
Concept
Design &
Redesign
The Final
Product
Evaluation & Analysis
Detour

UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM

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To begin with let’s hear the story of Sarah...

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Meet Sarah,

A 12-year-old middle school art prodigy with high-functioning autism, grapples with social anxiety in her new school, feeling overwhelmed to interact despite her talent. Even after receiving social skills training from therapists to prepare for such situations, she yearns for more tailored attention and support to navigate her social challenges effectively.

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH

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Understanding Autism

"While there is no cure for ASD, early intervention programs tailored to individual needs can help individuals develop skills, manage challenges, and reach their full potential."

What is autism? What are its characteristics? How do individuals typically address it?

Finding 01

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions like challenges with social skills, high sensitivity, speech and nonverbal interaction

Finding 02

According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today.

Finding 03

Autism is categorized into lower (LFA) and higher functioning autism (HFA). Those with HFA excel in speech and intelligence but often struggle with social anxiety, triggers and change sensitivity.

Finding 04

Therapists guide students with autism through a range of therapies, including behavioral, social skill training, occupational, sensory integration, role-playing, and art therapy.

RESEARCH PAPER STUDY

Diving deeper into the main issue

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“Only 20% of therapists felt equipped to work with HFA individuals, suggesting a need for bridging the gap between technology and traditional therapeutic approaches.”

Finding 01

What is the impact of social anxiety in students with high functioning autism?

40-60% of HFA individuals have social anxiety, compared to 13-20% of general population.” 

50% of HFA children with high social anxiety experience almost daily anxiety symptoms.” 

Finding 02

What is potential reason for social anxiety in students with high functioning autism?

“HFA individuals with social skill difficulties were 2-3 times more likely to experience social anxiety.

“Social skills interventions have a moderate to large effect on improving social skills and reducing anxiety in HFA children.” 

Finding 03

How effectively can therapists address this issues of social anxiety?

“Therapists report spending an average of only 10-15% of their time specifically focusing on social skills training with HFA clients.” 

Less than 50% of therapists routinely use standardized social skills assessments” 

Finding 04

How effectively technological intervention help both HFA students and therapists in this issue?

80% of therapists reported that technology-based interventions made their work with HFA clients more effective resulting in massive positive growth on children.“ 

“Using a gamified social skills app showed 80% adherence to the program and significant improvements in social skills.” 

QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Mining User Insights

What do the users do?

We observed 8 participants through watching documentaries since our target audience consists of individuals under the age of 18., and conducting direct observations was restricted by centre rules.

Finding 01

Common behaviour include fixation on interests and routines with repetitive actions.

Finding 02

Sensory stimuli greatly trigger them, leading to aggression and stress from disruptions.

Finding 03

Rapid changes in their environment or routines cause challenges for adaptation.

What do the users say?

We interviewed 8 participants which included psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, special education teacher and social workers to know more about the primary users, their therapy practices, the struggles they face and their take on technological interventions

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Psychiatrist and a Parent

"They feel bad but will not be able to convey it leading to frustrations. Moreover, with the ability to understand the people around and not having the sense of belonging leads to stress."

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Head of Autistic Center, India

"The ideal type of autistic children who can be helped by technology efficiently are highly functional children as they have high IQ and good vocabulary but still lack in social skills"

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Special Education Teacher

"It is crucial to start the therapy at the early stage as the children’s brain is still developing hence, better progress can be witnessed"

Lets Talk Numbers

Quantifying the qualitative user data

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Experience challenges in interpreting facial expressions.

Difficulty in comprehending the concept of taking turns during conversations.
 

Overlook maintaining
the appropriate conversational distance

 

Struggling to understand social cues and gestures
 

Fail to sustain
eye contact during conversations.


 

19%

25%

21%

20%

15%

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Exploring the Market

Who are the leading competitors in the market, and where do the existing interactive mobile applications fall short?
 

Effectiveness

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Need for two - way interaction feature to not hinder speech development at early stage

Need for tailored user interface and mobile application for HFA children
 

Need for specialized features for fostering Social Skills in diverse settings.
 

Finding 03
 

Finding 02
 

Finding 01
 

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OTISMO
 

SPEECH
BLUB

 

MITA

Efficiency

Effectiveness

AFFINITY DIAGRAM

Putting the Pieces Together

What was uncovered from the depths?

We categorised the data collected from all types of research conducted based on recurring themes and identified codes are as follows:

Therapy

Assistive Tech

Task-Reward System

Triggers

Behaviours

Social 
Interaction

USER MODELS

Personifying the Insights Uncovered

Who are our key users ? What are their thoughts, feelings and behaviour?

The primary users are students with high-functioning autism aged 8-14, and therapists are the secondary users who require necessary tools to deliver personalized attention and support to these students.
 

Dylan Ray

"I want to express my ideas clearly to my classmates, get what they're saying, and chat with people without feeling nervous. I'm trying to find a good way to make it happen."
 

13 year old, Student

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“I face difficulties while conducting therapy in public
settings. Limited resources make it hard for me to offer
them the necessary attention and support.



 

KEY PAINPOINTS

Summing Up

What are the significant issues experienced by users?

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Limited Practical Exposure
Insufficient opportunities to practice interactions in a variety of social settings, hindering their ability to learn and adapt.
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Inconsistent Therapy Quality
Lack of specialized therapists in this field limits access to tailored curriculum, leading to inconsistent outcomes for student.
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Resource and
Time Constraints
Both the therapists and students struggle to regularly schedule and sustain intensive therapy sessions due to time and resource constraints

PROBLEM STATEMENT

The Question of the Hour

" How might we assist therapists to support high-functioning students on spectrum to reduce their social anxiety  while  interacting with people in various social settings? "

DRIVING THE INNOVATION

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IDEATION

Brainstorming Impactful Solutions

Began with these thought provoking exploratory questions that steered our brainstorming process

 

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How might we aid them to get familiarised with the neurotypical environment without experiencing triggers?

How might we help children on spectrum to maintain a conversation or take part in discussion with decorum?

How might we design to grab and retain their attention?

How might we assist  them to engage with new people, make friends and build good relationships?

How might we encourage and make design interest them?

Where to start?

Choosing the Right One

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Team
members

Individual
session

Group
session

Brainstorming
session

Ideated
solutions

Most viable and impactful solution

A brief summary of Whiteboard session

 

Which is the most viable and impactful ? Does it address all the key painpoints identfied?
 

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**Viability

Solution 1: Interactive avatar bonding games

Solution 3:
collaborative
platform

Solution 2:
Virtualized role-play therapy in an interactive narration

**Impact

**We determined the feasibility by considering financial, time, social, and technical constraints. Additionally, we assessed the impact by validating the concept with subject matter experts including therapists and psychiatrists  who were interviewed during the research phase.

Integrating the Solution into Practical Scenarios

I created storyboards to explore its usability and assess its viability, identifying constraints and essential features for optimal functionality.

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He consults his therapist to overcome his anxiety

Zayn is struggling to adapt to his new school causing him stress

Therapist gives advise, but Zayn is not satisfied with the session

She introduces him to virutal role-playing to practice his social skills

Zayn starts using the application to familiarise various social settings

Therapist monitors his progress and is pleased about his growth

Zayn makes many friends and no more feel socially isolated

Zayn practices his social skills daily and make remarkable progress

CONCEPT MODEL

Structuring the Solution

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What are the key constraints of the solution?

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User Engagement and Motivation
Maintaining consistent engagement and motivation among students, especially given the varying interests and attention spans of target users
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Speech Recognition Accuracy
Ensuring the speech recognition and synthesis systems accurately understand and respond to diverse speech patterns and accents
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Data Privacy
and Security
Protecting sensitive user data, considering the vulnerability of the user group and preventing the potential misuse of the platform

SOLUTION

The Chosen One

An assistive learning tool tailored for students with high-functioning autism. It promotes social skill development through virtual role-playing of daily life tasks in stimulated social environment with multiplayer feature utilizing speech recognition and synthesis for two-way interaction.

It aids therapists in guiding students through virtual role-play therapy offering personalized skill development and reducing social anxiety at their own pace and comfort.

Why opting for this approach is a sound decision?
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Engaging Multiplayer interactive interface: Boosting Student Attention and Engagement
Fostering Student Communication and Building Connections in an Autism-Friendly Game Format
Maintaining Social Connection: Inclusivity Through Constant Human Interaction 

BUILDING THE INNOVATION

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DESIGN

Drafting the Blueprint of the application

How will the application function? How will it look?
 

In the design phase, we initiated by structuring the information architecture for our application, aligning features with clear user navigation. Following this, we iteratively sketched screens and crafted wireframes. Additionally, we conducted research on designing for neurodivergent users, leading to a specialized visual approach. Finally, we developed a high-fidelity prototype for the evaluation stage.

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VISUAL GUIDE

It's Makeover Time

Choosing the style guide was vital due to sensory sensitivity in students with autism.

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Neurodivergent individuals prefer clear fonts with less letter ambiguity.

Finding 01

Neurodivergent individuals prefer soft colors due to sensitivity to brightness.

Finding 02

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REFINING THE INNOVATION

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USER EVALUATION

Discovering the room for improvement

What works and what not?

We used two approaches for user evaluation after prototyping: Heuristic Evaluation by four UX experts and the Think Aloud Protocol with four participants to identify critical usability issues.

We used two approaches for user evaluation after prototyping: Heuristic Evaluation by four UX experts and the Think Aloud Protocol with four participants to identify critical usability issues.

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Before
After
Report
Report
Users recommended it is easier to perceive instantly what each icon on the main menu meant with text added, thus reducing the time taken to complete a task
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Psychologist
"I think using icons with text makes things easier to understand, especially for young kids with high-functioning autism. It helps them remember what each icon means."

THE INNOVATION

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DYNAMIC PROTOTYPE

Presenting you..... "SOCIOSTIC"

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Onboarding Screens
Login Screens
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Home & other
Screens

Role-Play Screens
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Pair interaction
screens
Group interaction I
screens 
Group interaction II
screens
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TAKING HOME

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SELF REFLECTION

Transforming Experience into Wisdom

Learning 01

Recognized the power of iterative design in enhancing user interfaces based on design critiques from people involved in the project and those not.

Learning 02

Improved project management skills by setting clear goals and timelines, leading to more efficient project execution.

Learning 03

Appreciated the role of cross-functional collaboration, working closely with designers and researchers from different backgrounds to achieve project goals

Learning 04

Learned the importance of clear and comprehensive design documentation, aiding in effective communication with team members.

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