Robots, virtual environments and developmental disorders: technology advancement needs neurodiversity

Seminar with Thusha Rajendran, Director of the Developmental Psychology in Action Lab based in the Department of Psychology, Heriot-Watt University

Thursday, 29th June

12noon - 2pm  (please bring lunch)

Moray House School of Education

Paterson's Land, Room 1.19

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Computer Science may be divided about whether it needs Psychology to create human computer interaction systems like robots and virtual characters. Here, I argue that not only does it need Psychology, but it needs to take a developmental psychopathological approach, to create better technologies for all of us. I argue that developmental conditions are not ‘diseases’ to be cured, but differences to be understood. Neurodiversity is, therefore, not only important for genetic variation within the gene pool, but it also provides us with unique windows into psychological processes – which in turn helps us make better technologies for society. I will provide examples, from my own work, including how computer-mediated role-play has been used to investigate social vulnerability in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and maltreated treated children; how virtual environments have been used to understand decision-making in ASD; how virtual characters can be used to develop social interactions in the children with ASD; how virtual environments can be used to assist people with special needs in vocational training – and how robots are being used to help adults with ASD in the workplace. I will argue that these technologies not only show that an optimal outcome can come via new technologies – but also that the entire design process in enhanced by designing for people with developmental conditions.

Thusha's recent publications include:

Little, G., Bonnar, L., Kelly, S., Lohan, K.S., & Rajendran, G. (2016). Gaze contingent joint attention with an avatar in children with and without ASD. The 6th IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning and on Epigenetic Robotics.

Gray, S., Roberston, J., & Rajendran, G. (2015). BrainQuest: an active smart phone game to enhance executive function. ACM SIGCHI Interaction Design and Children.

Rajendran, G. (2013). Virtual environments and autism: a developmental psychopathological approach. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 29, 4, 334–347.

2016-2019: Co-I Breaking Educational Barriers with Contextualised, Pervasive and Gameful Learning (BEACONING) H2020 Innovation action. EU No. 687676

2016-2019 Co-I. EPSRC. A Robot Training Buddy for adults with ASD. Aylett, R., Vinciarelli, A., Foster, M-E., & Rajendran, G. EP/N035305/1



Date of Event 
29 Jun 2017
Event Leader 
Thusha Rajendran
Moray House School of Education, Paterson's Land, Room 1.19
Research Area 
Children & Technology
Event type