Shadow Kids get a Spotlight from Digital Assistants

Have you ever had a conversation with an autistic child before? It can be a challenge, especially since their social skills are not the same. Infact, good lucky trying to get a full two or three sentences out of them because they tend to stay within themselves. They are never quite sure about what to say at times so instead they keep quiet. This can cause high anxiety for most, even those without being autistic, or what most would say introverts, because the idea of having to hold a conversation requires a lot more than knowing what to say next, it’s also about reading body language and understanding the hidden meaning within sub-context. This is why great conversationalist’s can be intimidating at parties because they make it look so easy. Autistic Kids live in a different world and because of that they relate differently to people than they do to inanimate objects.

Shadow Kids
Shadow Kids is a term used in psychology to label kids who don’t fall in the high achievers category but they don’t fall in the lazy or disinterested category either. They fall within a small range that tests do not account for. Infact, most material taught in schools is not geared toward shadow kids, because it is very difficult to create curriculum for them. It is easy to create classes for smart kids and it is easy to create classes for struggling students but how do you create a class for kids that don’t rank within those two areas? You can’t and so many of those kids end up struggling personally throughout school because sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t  and sometimes they are amazing at one thing but average on another.

Autistic kids, when it comes to technology, have been left out of the whole area of engagement when it comes to interacting. A phone was just a device with colored images on the screen and characters they liked talking to them. Research has shown that autistic kids see inanimate objects differently than normal kids because they anthropomorphize objects, especially stuffed animals. Now that the world has digital assistants that can answer questions the world of possibilities has suddenly changed for kids who fall within this developmental range.

Parents who struggled to answer question after question about what the weather will be like today can now direct their child to talk to their phone and get endless answers to their endless questions. They are no longer Shadow Kids being ignored by others but someone who can get personal attention anytime they want.

Bringing Out a Child’s True Character
In an article by Judith Newman she talks about her son’s relationship with Siri and how she considers her to be her son’s B.F.F. The story she wrote explains how Siri has taught her son more than she ever could have and let’s face it, for parent’s it can get tiring trying to answer the same question over and over but in different ways. Siri, on the other hand, has the unlimited patience and information to share with her son whenever he wants to know something.

She has found him many times having complete conversations with her about planes, the weather, objects and even trains. Any parent with an autistic child knows how difficult it is for them to hold a conversation with a person and she credits Siri with helping her son with having one of the longest conversations with her. All parents want to be able to talk with their child and understand what they are thinking about so it can be emotionally hard when your child is not able to do that. But it can be a blessing when you find that your child has a best friend that will not hurt or harm them but only help them get better in life.

She even learned that her son has thought about the idea of marriage when he asked Siri if she would marry him. Conversations like this tell a lot about what a child is thinking about because she now knows that her son would like to marry and love someone and that it is something he has thought about. Siri’s reply was very cute but it also shows how autistic people understand the word no in a polite manner without hurting his feelings.

Assistant Technology Filling in the Gaps
There are lots of efforts now by many companies who want to help improve autistic behavior in kids by pairing them up with robot companions and digital assistants. They have the ability to track their eye movement and help them learn to focus their attention better. Robot companions can help with social interactions and provide a way for them to improve their speaking skills, especially when they mumble. which many do. A sudden prompt by Siri has helped Judith’s son many times when she is unable to understand what he is asking for by simply giving a polite response or the answer to something else. This makes her son aware that he needs to speak clearly next time.

Besides the companionship portion that digital assistants provide many kids connect better when their animated character is talking to them. In an effort to get autistic and socially challenged kids to talk more and improve their social skills there is a push for being able to change the voice of the digital assistant to their favorite character, and DIsney characters tend to be very popular among kids with these kinds of problems. If they can match the way the character acts and talks this would be a huge hit for many people in general. Why get advice from Siri when you can change her voice to your favorite animated character or a famous comedian.


This article may not be business related, in the sense, but it shows the different areas that are growing based on shadow areas that were never thought of before. Her son’s interaction with Siri is no different from an introvert who uses online dating websites instead of going out and meeting someone. One just happens to come after the other based on need and interest. There will be more personal assistants to follow now that Cortana has shown what digital assistants can really do. She makes Siri look like an idiot. But it is even better when a child who thought there were no friends to make in this world can now carry them where ever they go.

In reading this story you can see the potential for so many other budding ideas to help kids like her son reach their potential. They see the world different from everyone  else so working to find a way to make it easier to live in this world should be the goal for any of those ideas.

To Read the full story about how her son became friends with Siri, click the link below.

How One Boy with Autism Became B.F.F.’s  with Siri

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