Now, a toy to help autistic kids learn playing skills!

Washington: Researchers have developed a new toy which they claim will help autistic children learn positive playing skills.

A team at Victoria University, led by Helen Andreae, says that their new responsive, mechanised toy, called `Auti`, will help autistic children develop speaking, touching, and collaborating skills.

It shuts down in response to any negative behaviour such as hitting or screaming, but quickly responds to the slightest positive interaction such as speaking gently or stroking. Each sensor can be adjusted to respond appropriately to a child`s individual characteristics, say the researchers.

"Autistic children find it difficult to play. They have great difficulty using their imagination to develop even the simplest fictional scenarios and have even further difficulties playing with other children because they often don`t understand how they should control their voice and body.

"This can scare other children away when they are trying to make friends. I have had an awareness of autism for a long time, through family discussions and through observing the autistic child of a friend. In developing my design challenge, I thought a toy which could help families dealing with autism," said Andreae.

The toy was designed in consultation with a child psychologist who works with autistic children and a professor whose research speciality is teaching autistic children, the researchers say.

Andreae says the toy is currently a prototype, so she has only allowed children of friends and family to play with it to avoid damage.

"The response to it has been positive — children love the fluffiness of Auti which is made of possum fur. If one day Auti was commercialised it would need further fine tuning and I`d look at broadening its functions for a range of teaching applications," she said.