Alyssa M. Alcorn
, PhD

Research Associate, Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE)

UCL Institute of Education,
University College London,

a.alcorn (at)

Research twitter: @a_m_alcorn0131


Research interests:
technologies for people on the autism spectrum, HCI and interaction design for children, participatory design, technology-enhanced learning and educational technologies, cognitive psychology, research ethics.

Click here for a link to my Google Scholar profile and publications/citations list. I am also now on Research Gate! See my profile here, though my publications list on Google Scholar is more complete.

DE-ENIGMA project on CBBC!

Representing DE-ENIGMA, I joined UK children's medical programme Operation Ouch! for their December 6th episode "Tremendous Tears" (Season 5, Episode 12). Here, presenter Dr Xand and I explain about how Zeno is being used as a tool to help children on the autism spectrum learn about facial expressions. Catch up with me, Zeno the and his faces, excited kids and Dr Xand on CBBC! The show is available in the UK only for 28 days from December 6th, 2017 on BBC iPlayer.

Want to skip to the DE-ENIGMA segment? See from approximately 21:00.

Recent talks

Safer Internet Forum 2017 (November 23, 2017)

This event was part of the EU Commission-funded Better Internet for Kids programme, and brings together policy makers, industry, and stakeholders in children's internet security. This year's event included a session on vulnerable user groups, and why and how those particular groups may be vulnerable online. I spoke about the opportunities and challenges that may be present for young autistic people as internet users, and how some types of existing guidance may not always be a good fit with their needs and strengths.


UCL Knowledge Lab (October 25th, 2017)

Slowly scaling up from “proof-of-concept” in robotics for autism: the DE-ENIGMA project
This talk gave some background on the rationale for using humanoid robots with autistic children, and why it matters to "scale up" to collecting larger, more diverse child datasets in this research area. It presented some initial results from the DE-ENIGMA project's first year of studies, introduced the DE-ENIGMA multi-modal database (currently in development) and gave a sneak peek of some technical capabilities that will be incorporated into the next round of child-robot activities.

See the video here! Talk is 39 minutes long, and has been edited to remove video clips of ch

UCL Knowledge Lab DE-ENIGMA seminar

Link to this talk on UCL MediaCentral

Innovative Technologies for Autism (ITASD) conference in Valenca, Spain (June 29-July 2, 2017)

English language abstract book:

See the DE-ENIGMA project on pages 6, 59

See my other autism and technology work on pages 12, 56

Presenting DE-ENIGMA as part of "AI and the Democratization of Education", hosted by the UCL Institute of Education during London EdTech week (June 20, 2017)

The DE-ENIGMA project


I am a postdoctoral researcher on the DE-ENIGMA project, an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project. I am based at the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) at the UCL Institute of Education. This is a large project with multiple partner universities, focused on developing social robots as tools for children on the autism spectrum. Read a research profile of the project work at the UCL Institute of Education here (published December 2017).

The short videos below explain my work on DE-ENIGMA, and introduce our robot, Zeno!

Introducing Zeno and DE-ENIGMA

Making faces with Zeno the robot

PhD Thesis (Univerisity of Edinburgh)

Embedding novel and surprising elements in touch-screen games for children with autism: Creating experiences “worth communicating about"

Read the lay summary here. This is a short piece of text (1 page) that explains the work for a general, non-scientific audience.

Read the thesis abstract here. This is a short piece of text (<1 page) that gives the highlights of the entire piece of work, for an academic audience.

The games developed as a part of my PhD thesis can be seen as video demos, or played online for free. More information about the games and demos is available on my Games and Demos page.

My PhD was fully funded by a combination of sources:

For a good overview of my early PhD work suitable for a fairly general audience, see the video of my presentation at the second International Conference on Innovative Technologies for Autism (ITASD), in Paris (October 2014).
"The Sweet Spot: Balancing Novelty, Expectation Violation, and the “Need for Sameness” to Motivate Initiations in Virtual Environments"

Previous work and research groups

Within the School of Informatics, I was part of the Institute for Language, Cognition & Computation (ILCC), which focuses on the computational study of human and machine language, communication, and cognition. This institute encompasses a wide range of interests, with many interdisciplinary research projects.

Along with Professor Helen Pain, Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson, and Dr. Andrew Manches, I was a co-organiser of the Learning and Adaptive Environments Research (LAER) Lab at the University of Edinburgh from 2011-2015. This group aims to bring together academics and students interested in technologies designed or applied with the goal of furthering education, communicative, and social development for users of all ages and abilities.

From January-December 2011, I was a Research Associate in the Interaction Lab (iLab) at Heriot Watt University, UK, working full time on the ECHOES project (see below). The iLab is a part of the Computer Science department in the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences.

I worked on the ECHOES technology-enhanced learning project from 2010-2012 (as an MSc student, part-time researcher, and full-time researcher) and continue to be involved as the project finishes its data analysis and publication activities. ECHOES is collaboration between multiple UK universities. ECHOES is a technology-enhanced learning environment where 5-to-7-year-old children on the Autism Spectrum and their typically developing peers can explore and improve social and communicative skills through interacting and collaborating with virtual characters (agents) and digital objects.

This project combined:
  • Multi-touch screens
  • Vision
  • AI planning
  • Participatory design methods (the process of designing with, rather than for users)
  • Autism and developmental psychology research
  • The SCERTS framework for autism intervention
ECHOES was funded by ESRC/EPSRC Technology Enhanced Learning and officially concluded in May 2012. Results are in preparation. For more information and a full list of all the researchers and partner universities, visit the ECHOES project website.

As of June 2014, the ESRC has graded the ECHOES project and its outputs as "Outstanding", the highest possible grade. The TEL website has a brief description of this achievement.