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Finland joins AI pilot to identify kids with writing disorders

A new video game environment utilising artificial intelligence could make it easier to diagnose and treat children with dysgraphia at a younger age.

Luca Lo Iacono shows how the tablets and pens used in the pilot work. Image: Heini Holopainen / Yle

Finland is one of seven countries taking part in the international pilot of a new video game environment designed to diagnose and treat children affected by learning disabilities. The Torkinmäki comprehensive school in the western coastal city of Kokkola will supply the pilot with data, which will feature results from over 3,000 children the world over when it is finished.

The Dysgraphia Platform is the brainchild of a Canadian firm, Oppimi. People with dysgraphia have problems writing, primarily by hand, and also have difficulties with coherence.

The programme involves asking pupils to complete a series of video games on tablets with electronic pens. Using algorithms, the games then evaluate indicators such as pen position and pressure on the screen to identify weaknesses in individual pupils' handwriting skills. If necessary, the system can also produce a detailed report for future therapy.

The innovative pilot hopes to make it easier to identify children affected by dysgraphia at an early age.

"This marks the first time that writing disorders have been so widely studied. Analysis is based on many different factors, like pen pressure, the angle of the pen while writing, and writing speed. Together they can provide an overall picture of the pupil's fine motor skills," says Luca Lo Iacono, Oppimi's R&D director.

Complementing current practices

Ten Torkinmäki school children who have no apparent challenges when it comes to writing and reading will participate in the pilot at first.

"The new application is a playful environment, where pupils can carry out easy writing and drawing tasks. There's no intention to do anything difficult; more like connecting dots and writing different kinds of text. These are then utilised to discover any reading and writing difficulties," explains the school's rector Hanna Pernu.

Traditionally, dysgraphia has been diagnosed in Finland by observing pupils putting pen to paper, often with the help of a special needs teacher. Pernu says that this will still be the case.

"We will still follow the protocol that a special needs teacher will do testing with pens and paper, as needed. We hope that artificial intelligence will bring a new dimension to the testing and analysis of writing disorders," she says.

Central nervous system-based writing disorders (dysgraphia) are often tied to reading disorders (dyslexia). It is estimated that more than 10 percent of school children around the world have trouble learning to read and write. Among adults, this share falls to six percent.