Ph.D. Dissertation Defense by Hwajung Hong

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  • Date/Time:
    • Monday March 30, 2015
      3:30 pm - 6:30 pm
  • Location: Atlanta, GA
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Summary Sentence: Specializing Social Networking Services to Support the Independence of Adolescents and Adults with Autism

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Ph.D. Dissertation Defense Announcement

Title: Specializing Social Networking Services to Support the Independence of Adolescents and Adults with Autism

Hwajung Hong
Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. Candidate
School of Interactive Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Monday, March 30, 2015
Time: 3:30am-6:30pm EST
Location: TBD

Dr. Gregory D. Abowd (Co-Advisor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Rosa I. Arriaga (Co-Advisor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Betsy DiSalvo (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Eric Gilbert (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
Dr. Gillian Hayes (School of Information & Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine)
Dr. Meredith Ringel Morris (Microsoft Research & Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington)

The rise in autism diagnoses is being reported in the early 1990’s, and children from that generation are beginning to transition from school into adulthood. Many individuals with autism manifest problems in transitioning due to social impairments, communication difficulties, and rigid and repetitive behaviors. This dissertation is targeted towards the adolescents and young adults with high functioning autism, which despite of demonstrating language ability and intelligence in the normal range, require continuing social support in their struggle for an independent life. One of those challenges is developing a robust and sufficiently large network of people who can provide advice about a variety of everyday situations beyond a small set of primary caregivers.

In this dissertation, I investigate ways of supporting adolescents with high functioning autism in navigating their everyday life through the use of different kinds of social networking services (SNSs). I first conducted a formative study to identify challenges faced by individuals with autism and caregivers and opportunities for the design of a specialized SNS that fosters independence.
In the second study, I conducted an empirical investigation of an existing SNS, focusing on a special feature, “a focused communication circle.”  The results revealed the positive impact of communication circle on independence by facilitating requests for help and reaching out to extend online network members beyond a primary caregiver. I also discussed implications for enhancing features of existing SNSs that support the activity of information- or advice-seeking to cope with frustrations and challenges, which I refer to question-and-answer (Q&A) behavior.

To support Q&A behavior of individuals with autism, I investigated an autism-specific online forum where a myriad of conversation threads had been generated. Drawing on a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis, I established a taxonomy of questions asked by individuals with autism and examined how the questions are being addressed by the forum users. I found these questions addressed a variety of everyday social challenges ranging from tips to partake in small talk at a hair salon to requests for financial planning advice. To enhance the Q&A experience, I proposed and evaluated a crowdsourcing approach for augmenting the kind of existing autism forums. The results revealed that crowd workers offered rapid, concise, and socially appropriate coping strategies without compromising emotional support.
Drawing on several formative studies and investigations, I synthesized design guidelines for, a specialized hybrid social Q&A platform with features for scaffolding question creation and crowdsourcing answers. Through the initial evaluation of, I examined the Q&A behavior of individuals with autism on this platform and identified both opportunities and barriers to adoption for individuals with autism in the context of supporting transition skills for independence. 

The contributions of this thesis are: (1) a rich description of challenges and opportunities related to attaining independent life using SNSs; (2) empirical studies of individuals with autism’s online Q&A behavior; (3) design implications for designing a specialized SNS facilitating the Q&A interactions; and (3) the design and initial feasibility study of a social Q&A platform in the real world.

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In Campus Calendar

Graduate Studies

Invited Audience
graduate students, Phd Defense
  • Created By: Danielle Ramirez
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  • Created On: Mar 23, 2015 - 7:53am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 9:45pm