The FIRST project is developing a tool to assist people with autism spectrum disorders to adapt written documents into a format that is easier for them to read and understand. It will empower people with autism to read documents with confidence and autonomy. As a result, their social inclusion will be increased as they gain better access to educational, vocational, cultural and social opportunities in Europe.


Key issues 

As a result of their condition, people with autism experience difficulties in:

  • Comprehending speech and writing;
  • Interpreting figurative / non-literal language;
  • Understanding complex instructions;
  • Deriving the meaning or gist of written documents.

These difficulties present a significant barrier to the participation and inclusion of people with autism in all aspects of society, including education, employment, health care and social activities.

This software aims to reduce these barriers by providing a tool that empowers people with autism to read a broad range of documents without assistance. This tool will help to reduce the risk of social exclusion for people with autism.

As autism encompasses a spectrum of symptoms that vary in severity among individuals, the software must be personalisable, enabling users to adapt documents to match their own reading and comprehension abilities.

Technical approach

The software is being developed by a team of computer programmers who specialise in language technology and professionals in the field of autism.

The team will work with a large sample of people who have autism to research and evaluate how the software can effectively assist people with a range of reading and comprehension abilities. 

The software technology will utilise language technology to adapt the language used in written documents for people with autism by reducing complexity, removing ambiguity and improving readability.

This process includes:

1.    Replacement of

·         long complex sentences with several short, simple sentences;

·         long / technical words with short, simple words;

·         non-literal language with literal translations.

2.    Provision of definitions for ambiguous words and phrases;

3.    Addition of

·         images;

·         concise summaries;

·         document navigation tools for long documents.

Diagram - how the tool will work

Expected achievements / impact

The software developed will primarily assist people with autism to access to written information, thereby increasing their quality of life and social inclusion.

The software will also assist clinicians, support workers, family members of people with autism and teachers, to provide more efficient assistance to people with autism to help them understand written information.  The software can also be helpful for people with low literacy or learning difficulties, as well as people who are learning a foreign language and the elderly.

Priority / priority component

The objective of this project is to enhance social inclusion for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders by creating a computer software program that adapts documents into a format that is easier for them to read and understand.

This software product will address the European Commission’s priority need for “Research on ICT for smart and personalised inclusion addressing advanced solutions to improve social and economic inclusion by means of inclusive design, accessible, personalisable and human-ICT interfaces, social computing and advanced solutions for learning and skills acquisition as well as Brain-Neural Computer Interfaces (BNCI)”*.

Financial and administrative details

Contract number:  287607

Total budget: €2,507,218.00

Project duration: October 12011 – September 30, 2014


Ruslan Mitkov
Professor of Computational Linguistics and Language Engineering  
Research Institute for Information and Language Processing
University of Wolverhampton
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0) 1902 322 471

Fax: +44 (0) 1902 323 543

Email: contact(at)



* European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme, Information and Communication Technologies Work Programme 2011-2012, Challenge 5: ICT for Health, Ageing well, Inclusion and Governance, Objective ICT-2011.5.5: ICT for smart and personalised inclusion.


Downloadable (.pdf) versions of project overview: