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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

AI Chatbots and Autistic People

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.

Amanda Hoover and Samantha Spengler at Wired:
Autism affects people in many different ways and individuals can have varying needs. ChatGPT may not work for some or even most, but a common feature of autism is that social interactions can be difficult or confusing.

Using a chatbot to help with communication may seem unconventional, but it’s in line with some established ideas used in social work to help people become more independent. “We talk about empowering people and helping people to be fully autonomous and experience success on their own terms,” says Lauri Goldkind, a professor in Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service who focuses on the marriage of social work and technology. An accessible tool like a generative AI bot can often help bridge the gap left by intermittent access to mental health services like therapy, Goldkind says.

But the true impact of ChatGPT for therapeutic reasons is largely unknown. It’s too new—WIRED reached out to four clinical therapists and counselors for input. Each of them declined to comment, saying that they have yet to explore the use of ChatGPT as a therapeutic tool or encounter it in their sessions.

But ChatGPT still does not reason very well.  I asked it why Senator Rick Santorum sponsored the Combating Autism Act of 2006.  Among the reasons that it cited: " Santorum has a child with a developmental disability. His daughter, Bella, was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic condition that causes severe developmental delays. This personal experience likely influenced his interest in issues related to disabilities and special needs, including autism."  But Bella Santorum was born in 2008, two years after the bill passed.