Informatics Ph.D. student introduces DanceCraft to OC autistic children

April 10, 2017

In February, informatics Ph.D. student Kate Ringland teamed up with Broadway choreographer and UCI Assistant Professor of Drama Andrew Palermo to create DanceCraft, a software program that is part of a six-segment dance study on autism.

“It started as a project for Autism App Jam one year and we realized there was real potential for good in it,” said Ringland. “I worked with a great team of undergraduates to build DanceCraft. It’s been an important side project for me.”

Dance can help children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with body awareness, one of several sensory atypicalities associated with ASD.

Palermo’s “Creatively Able” dance program focuses on movement for those diagnosed with ASD. Ringland developed the assisted technology software to work in tandem with “Creatively Able”.

The children, ages 7-12, participated in three live dance programs on Feb. 4, 11 and 18 at the Irvine office of nonprofit United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County, which partnered with UCI’s Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. Afterward, the families were each given a copy of DanceCraft to take home and complete three more dance lessons, each with an individualized theme: birds, snow and cars.

All that is needed to operate the software is a computer and an Xbox Kinect. Utilizing motion-capture technology at home, children see their own silhouettes beside a simple animated version of Palermo. 

“The silhouettes are intuitive for children and we purposely left out any distracting sounds and pictures,” said Ringland.

She added, “We’ve gotten some great feedback from parents, in particular they tell me how much easier DanceCraft has been for their children to use versus commercial dance programs.”

Ringland’s advisor is Gillian Hayes, Robert A. and Barbara L. Kleist Professor of Informatics, whose areas of research include assistive technology, ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction and technology for individuals with autism.

Read an Orange County Register article about Palermo and the autism dance program.