Let’s Play (While Far Away)! Using Technology to Mediate Remote Playdates for Children with Autism

  • Annuska ZolyomiEmail author
  • Ankitha Bharadwaj
  • Jaime Snyder
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10290)


Play is an essential social, emotional, and intellectual developmental activity for children, including those with autism. Parents, educators, and therapists of autistic children strive to create opportunities for children to engage in mutual play with peers. Among other benefits, play enables children to develop the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, a process described by the “Theory of Mind” (ToM), a concept formulated by developmental psychologists. This awareness of another’s perspective has been identified as particularly challenging for people with autism. To examine the potential for technology to support play and ToM skills, we interviewed parents of children with autism about their current play practices. We found that parents struggle to implement in-person playdates due to the challenges of finding appropriate nearby peers and busy schedules filled with medical and therapy appointments. To explore alternatives to in-person playdates, we conducted an exploratory study in which pairs of autistic and neurotypical children interacted via two remote technologies: Microsoft Skype and Microsoft IllumiShare, a shared surface system. Our interaction analysis revealed that, through embodied interaction with real and virtual objects, the children engaged in mutual and parallel play. However, at times, the constraints of the technology impeded joint attention and perspective-taking. We contribute empirical findings based on interaction analysis of neurodiverse playmates playing remotely with tangible objects in a shared surface environment. We recommend design considerations for remote technologies to support mutual play and ToM skills.


Remote technologies Embodied interaction Theory of mind Play Autism 



Thank you to Microsoft Research, especially Sasa Junuzovic, for guidance on this research and access to the IllumiShare. Thank you to Julie Kientz for direction on our project, Kiley Sobel for piloting our codebook, and Katie Headrick Taylor for inspiration on interaction analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annuska Zolyomi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ankitha Bharadwaj
    • 1
  • Jaime Snyder
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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