Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye
— Val Doonican

In my childhood home we listened to both kinds of music – country and western. There was none of this “modern” country – it was heavily loaded with Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride and Waylon Jennings. There was a smattering of Willie Nelson, albums of Dolly Parton before 9 to 5, and even some Elvis. Of course, there was Slim Dusty. But one of my Nan’s favourites was Val Doonican’s Walk Tall. She would say it was more than a song – it was a handbook for life.

The concept of looking the “world right in the eye” is deeply ingrained in us. Certainly in Western culture. So much so that we believe it’s hard to look someone in the eye and lie. This has been debunked as a myth, but its cultural currency remains strong. In 1997, Dr Arthur Aron published a paper that showed simply staring into the eyes of a stranger for four minutes uninterrupted can have a massive impact on the development of “closeness” or “relationships”. Recently, this was charmingly re-enacted (under more open conditions) by Mandy Len Catron and written up in the New York Times.

But what happens if a person you love – a child – your child – won’t look you in the eye? This is the case for many parents of children with autism:

People with an autism have difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships. They do not respond to many of the non-verbal forms of communication that many of us take for granted like like facial expressions, physical gestures and eye contact.

But what if that could be changed? And what if technology could help?

Samsung in Korea worked with universities to create an app that taught autistic kids to look at faces, decypher emotions and understand what is going on with the person they are “communicating” with. The Look At Me app is the result:

The Look at Me app aims to improve an individual’s ability to make eye contact. A multidisciplinary team of clinical psychologists, cognitive psychologists, and psychiatrists have dedicated their participation in developing the app curriculum. The app is currently under clinical testing to verify its effectiveness through research. The app keeps children motivated and highly concentrated by using the camera function of digital devices that often appeal to children’s interests.

And now, following the success of the app in Korea, Samsung Canada is donating 200 tablets preloaded with the Look At Me app to Autism Speaks Canada.

This is technology that really has the potential to change lives. It brings technology, creativity, health and psychology together in an ingenious way. And at least in some households, it will be perfectly acceptable to have plenty of “screen time”. It would be great to see the same kind of program here in Australia.

HT: Digital Buzz Blog