News: New paper accepted for publication on Autism. Preprint available here.

The project aims at developing collaborative technologies designed to promote the learning of social competence by children who are typically developing and those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Social competence is a multidimensional concept that reflects a child's capacity to integrate behavioural, cognitive and affective skills in order to adapt flexibly to diverse social contexts and demands. The main goal of the project is to experiment with novel collaborative technologies to support the acquisition of social competence in young people. In particular, the COSPATIAL project investigates two categories of technologies for collaborative interaction that have already demonstrated their potentials as effective means for the training of social skills: (i) Collaborative Virtual Environments (VE) and (ii) Shared Active Surfaces (AS).

Virtual environments have been used successfully to enable children with intellectual and learning disabilities to learn about and practice everyday tasks and behaviors . These 3D simulations of everyday situations can be interacted with by individuals using a standard PC interface or groups collaborating via tangible interaction devices (such as the 'magic carpet' for moving around the virtual environment). Successful transfer of learning from the VE to the real world has been demonstrated. In this respect, VEs support rehearsal of real world behaviors as well as cognitive skills that may be fundamental to those behaviors.


Active Surfaces are an emerging class of devices and applications. They are shared co-located systems that represent a radical shift from the paradigm of one-user-one-computer. As such, they are subject to different design constraints than standard Graphical User Interface (GUI) applications. They are based on large interactive surfaces placed horizontally ('tabletop' devices) or vertically ('wall displays') on which a specifically designed interface is displayed or projected. Tabletop devices that encourages pairs of children with High Functioning (HF) ASD to work together demonstrated promising results.