Hear to Help - Chatbot

Published June 2020

Evidence suggests that young autistic people that continue their education post-secondary school have better life outcomes than their autistic peers. A recent Australian survey found that students on the autism spectrum who used support systems had a better overall university experience, but that there was low usage of the support systems available. Reported reasons were both academic and non-academic factors, but reluctance to use support systems was related to previous bad experiences or poor self-advocacy skills.

This project aimed to develop a chatbot prototype by building a ‘brain’ using existing resources and refined through conversations with, and feedback from, young adults on the spectrum, their peers and advocates. A chatbot would allow the student to explore a range of support resources from the comfort of their own phone, potentially improving self-advocacy skills and enhancing the use of available support systems, without increasing the workload of the staff providing support services. A chatbot is a natural language processing program that takes utterances and applies a set of rules to derive an appropriate response. The response is drawn from a ‘brain’, which is developed to contain information relevant to a specific population group. The chatbot is deployed through an app on a smart device or through a web page.

This project produced a working chatbot that can be used by students on the autism spectrum and related conditions to facilitate participation in tertiary education.