Tech firm’s ‘Superpower Glass’ for autism not so super, experts say
A California-based healthcare company is poised to market its ‘Superpower Glass,’ high-tech eyeglasses that use software intended to improve autistic children’s social skills.
The company, Cognoa, announced in February that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had granted the therapy ‘breakthrough status,’ meaning it can move quickly through the agency’s approval process. And an open-label clinical trial published in March suggests that the technology temporarily improved the social skills of a group of 40 autistic children1.
But some experts, including several who declined to speak on the record, say the trial was poorly designed and the effects small and temporary.
According to parent reports, autistic children who used the glasses improved more on a social-skills portion of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales than did controls. But there was no significant difference between the two groups on another test of social skills, and on two emotion-recognition tests. And six weeks after the treatment ended, the children’s social improvements on the Vineland had disappeared.
“It’s hard to know how much to make of it,” says James Rehg, professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “It doesn’t look like at this point it was a slam dunk.”
Rehg says he would have more faith in the treatment if the effects had lasted or if the children had shown improvement on the other tests.
One reason the results are weak may be that the treatment targets the wrong problem, some experts say: Autistic children may not have trouble recognizing emotions.