Claremont Graduate University Professor's Tech Grant to Help Autism

Web-enabled devices would allow parents to load personalized images and texts onto PDA's to be used by autistic children.

Claremont, CA, June 01, 2007 --( Claremont Graduate University Assistant Professor Gondy Leroy has been awarded grants by both Edison International and Microsoft to continue researching ways in which technology can improve lives.

Leroy and colleague Gianluca De Leo (Old Dominion University in Virginia) were awarded $100,000, plus more than $40,000 in software from Microsoft Research to develop a communications device to better enable interaction between autistic children and their families and therapists. The grant will enable professors Leroy and De Leo to bring a prototype they have developed closer to production and open-source availability. Their project will develop flexible imaging software for SmartPhones or Pocket PCs that will facilitate on-the-go communication with autistic children who are very young or very severely disabled—who need either a first learning device or who will never go beyond using image-based communication.

“Existing assistive communication devices are either unsuitable for early intervention or are low-tech, cumbersome, and inefficient,” the authors state in their grant proposal. “New devices can increase quality of life for autistic children and their families while providing therapists unprecedented access to usage data by the very young or severely autistic.”

One unique aspect to the researchers’ project is that it is web-enabled, so parents can personalize pictures and texts from which to choose from.

There are currently 500,000 children in the US who are afflicted with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is growing at a rate of 10-17% a year. ASD is characterized by a wide variety of possible symptoms such as developmental disabilities, extreme withdrawal, lack of social behavior, severe language and attention deficits, and repetitive behaviors.

Leroy—professor in Claremont’s School of Information Systems and Technology—also received a $5,000 grant from Edison International to support her annual workshop, “Women in IT—Emerging Leaders.” This workshop for female high school and college students addresses three major barriers to women entering the field of information technology: a shortage of role models, negative stereotypes of IT workers, and poor understanding of the potential positive impact of IT on society.

Leroy earned a MA and PhD in Management Information Systems from the University of Arizona and holds a MS in cognitive psychology from the University of Leuven (Belgium).

Claremont Graduate University
Nikolaos Johnson