Month: February 2018

Assitive Technology and Autism

Evolving over decades, technology has changed the way society functions. From advanced features in homes such as a refrigerator that plays music to a vacuum that roams your home all on its own. In addition to lifestyle convince, technology has had a huge impact in advancing the way we communicate and learn– particularly in the area of developmental skills with those who have disabilities. In a growing trend, technology is a tool used to enhance how students learn in school.  

About 1 in 68 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This developmental disability can affect speech, language, cognitive learning, and more.

When technology first emerged for children, many parents were skeptical (and many still are) to allowing their children time with technology. Mindless video games and television shows seemed to have no educational value to their children, thus only wasting their time. In efforts to utilize this advanced power, teachers and engineers have drastically changed the idea of wasteful technology– enter what is called “assistive technology”.

For individuals with autism, developmental skills and communication are a challenge. Through assistive technology, someone on the autism spectrum can have improved quality of life. The Autism Speaks’ Innovative Technology for Autism Initiative (ITA) advocates to adapt and promote technology in order to positively impact individuals with autism

One of the common forms of technology for individuals with autism are PDAs. Personal Digital Assistants have come a long way since their creation. They are popular among businessmen and entrepreneurs, but are also a great tool for people on the autism spectrum. PDAs allow individuals to stay organized and on top of their schedule. A PDA eases frustration of an individual with autism by allowing them to be more independent and keeping track of their activities. PDAs provide reminders to move from one task to another, without the need of human interaction.

Many people with autism prefer computer interaction over human communication. Assistive devices create a world where they feel less anxious and reduced frustration for easier human communication. Think of a basic cell phone. People carry their phones everything. From cameras and calendars to speed dial and contacts, cell phones allow for easy functionality with everyday tasks. Quick phone calls or text messages make communicating through cell phones convenient and less stressful than in-person contact at times.

Another form of assistive technology that individuals with autism favor are ipads and mobile devices. Applications are readily downloadable with interactive games. Beyond general gaming, apps can help track migraines, seizures, sleep, medications and more. Apps can assist with cognitive development, behaviors/cues, and communication.

Assistive technology is a digital tool that improves cognitive learning and communication for individuals with autism. More importantly, it creates and builds confidence. These tools help people with autism navigate social situations. Thanks to technology, we are able to bridge a gap between typically developing children, and children on the autism spectrum.

Virtual Reality for Kids with Autism

VR got quite a moment in the spotlight this past Christmas. From a commercial featuring Lebron James and his family to the huge push for smartphone-compatible headsets, the tech world highly anticipated that VR would make a huge cultural impact and change the way that entertainment is produced and consumed.

Virtual Reality has long been a dream of programmers. For most of the history of visual entertainment, the mode of intake was one square screen such as a television or a movie screen, and today, a smartphone. However, adventures and life take place in three dimensions, in front and in back of the subject. Virtual Reality would add a more “real” feeling to movies, video games, and more.

Beyond entertainment, many anticipated some very practical applications of VR to corporate training and army training. For first responders, for example, virtual reality could augment the training programs and better prepare police, paramedics, and more to respond in a timely manner calmly and professionally. From testing best practices to continued development, VR offers a lot more than handbooks and tutorials by allowing a person to fully immerse their eyes and minds into potential situations and adjust habits and reflexes.

One place where VR could make a huge difference, though, is in the autism community. Individuals with autism often experience extreme anxiety when they know they have to visit new places where they’re not so familiar. Such overwhelming anxiety can express itself as an attack, sickness, and obstinance, followed by fainting or tantrums.

Take our son, for example, who lives with autism. We learned from his dentist that we would need to get his wisdom teeth removed, which is a surgical procedure that would make even someone without autism nervous for good reason. To help him mentally prepare for what the visit to the oral surgeon would entail, my wife and I visited the oral surgeon’s office and took lots of pictures of the office, the surgery room, the doctor, the nurses, and all the places we would be walking both to and from the event.

With months to prepare and more photos and videos than anyone could ask for, we were able to help our son “walk through” the whole process from start to finish and provide visual accompaniment. For these exact situations, we foresee Virtual Reality proving a really useful tool for showing him the landscape of other potential places he may have to visit, including barbershops, doctors’ offices, and more.

In time, we hope to see Virtual Reality harnessed better to help people with extreme anxiety such as those with autism better prepare for life by familiarizing themselves with their environments.

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