Autism is a condition that causes a brain disorder. Autism disorder syndrome (ASD) develops in the first two and a half years of childhood. It is a pervasive developmental disability that features impairments in social communication and imagination. Children with autism lack interest in other people.
The biggest hurdle in autism lies in the realm of communication. The challenge of communication occurs in a variety of parameters for children with ASD, such as:
- Difficulty in expressing themselves verbally. Some children with ASD are nonverbal and fail to express themselves appropriately, even if they can talk.
- They have a problem understanding the verbal and nonverbal communication of people. They struggle to understand words, body language, gestures, or tone of voice.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), technology, and other therapeutic approaches help children with ASD to communicate and express themselves in ways that don’t need speaking. These approaches use low-tech or high-tech devices to effectively enhance the communication and daily living skills of children with ASD.
Assistive technology is one scientific approach that employs technology and tools to assist students with learning disabilities in autism. Studies and use have shown that assistive technology significantly helps children with autism learn and improve their social skills, such as communication, repetitive behavioral, and functional skills.
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What are assistive technologies?
An Assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, that increase, maintains, or improves the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder. A wide range of tools in assistive technology (AT) is helpful or can even be life-changing for people with autism.
Assistive technology devices and tools include tools and devices from lever doorknobs to voice recognition software and speech-generating devices.
The assistive technologies may assist those with ASD with communication in the following ways:
- Help to understand their environment
- Develop expression and communication skills
- Improve social interaction skills
- Ability to manage sensory challenges
- Develop attention, motivation, and organization skills
- Develop Self help and daily functioning skills
Types of Assistive Technology for Autism
Assistive technology is divided into three following groups:
1. Low-tech assistive devices:
Low-tech assistive devices are those devices that don’t utilize electricity or power source like pencil grips, graphic organizers, calculators, or pogo boards. These assistive tools help people with ASD who have motor difficulties or impairment.
2. Mid-tech assistive devices:
Mid-tech devices are simple, relatively inexpensive, and easy to operate. Examples include sensory toys with batteries, visual timers, and videos on social skills.
3. High-tech AT:
High-tech assistive technology is digital technology. It includes anything from augmentative communication technology to robots. High-tech devices need power sources for operation. Devices like iPad, Smartphone, Pentop computers, etc. fall in this category.
Technology enhances the learning abilities of children with autism. It acts and performs as an assisting tool, encourages the rehabilitation process, and is a language device in autistics. Therefore, you can improve some of the impairments in children with autism with assistive technology.
Let us study various assistive technologies that help children with autism in daily functions and improve the quality of their life.
1. Speech Generating Devices (SGDs)
Speech-generating devices (SGDs) allow children with ASD to communicate with the help of electronic voice generation. Speech-generating devices help people with communication difficulties ‘speak’ words and sentences electronically.
The devices are portable that contain one or more panels or switches. Children can activate these panels or switches when they are depressed. The speech-generating device will produce pre-recorded digitized or synthesized speech. The SGDs may be a standalone device, small and light, or software you can install on a tablet or phone.
SGDs have icons and pre-recorded human voices that children with ASD can press corresponding to what they want to communicate. If the child wants an apple, they can push the button with a picture of an orange. The SGD will play the recorded voice that says, ‘I want an orange’.
Other complex devices allow people with ASD to communicate by typing words or combining pictures to form sentences.
Some high-tech speech-generating devices (SGDs) translate the child’s selection of images and symbols into electronically spoken communication. SGD allows the child to select an image, on the screen of a computer or other device and then produce corresponding spoken words through synthetically generated or recorded audio.
The use of SGDs improves communication abilities in children with ASD who are even nonverbal. Using an SGD is relatively easy than speaking, and it is fun for children.
Research has shown that using SGD seems to encourage the development of verbal skills. The researchers do not know the reason how exactly an SGD improves verbal communication, but some theories have been given, like:
- It is easier for the child to use verbal communication than a device. To avoid SGD, the child might learn to use spoken words, the easy solution.
- The use of SGD reduces the pressure to acquire verbal communication. It might encourage the development of verbal communication skills.
- The use of SGD may stimulate language skills that might translate to speaking skills.
2. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices
Impairment in communication and language deficits is a real struggle for children with ASD. It affects the entire family. Some autistic children are nonverbal, making it difficult to understand their needs.
The augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices help you what a child with ASD might be thinking. The child may select a picture, may have the word read aloud, or might be able to type a sentence. It will depend on the fine motor skills and capacities of the child.
Other than oral augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all communication used for expressing thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. When we make facial expressions, gestures, use symbols, pictures, or write; we all make use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) gives many people with ASD the ability to communicate in a way that is helpful to them. It uses communication methods that help or replace speech or writing with alternate communication, like pictures or sign language.
The motor, visual, cognitive, language, and communication styles of children with ASD determine the type of ACC they need.
Some high-tech AAC solutions are:
- Dedicated speech devices
- Devices of multiple uses like a laptop computer or an iPhone with AAC programs installed
Some of the low-tech or no-tech AAC solutions are:
- American Sign Language (ASL) for people with hearing deficits
- Communication boards, books with letters, words, phrases, and photos
- Notepads or notebooks
In some cases, a combination of AAC strategies is helpful.
3. Computer and Phone
Autistic children with motor and visual impairments often need independence in accessing computers and Smartphones. They may need computer-based modifications for organization, reading, and writing. More independent access to computers, phones, and learning technologies could include:
- Flexible and adjustable keyboards and mice
- Applications for memory and organization
- Voice commands and touch screens
- Switch aided scanning
- Text-to-speech features
4. Assistive Technologies-Based Apps
Digital technology has made good progress in the last decade in developing software and applications to help people with ASD learn and enhance their skills. Focus on selecting an application that addresses the child’s needs while looking for a Smartphone or tablet. You will find some apps with customized options. Some apps are games that an autistic child can play when in school or during a therapy session.
Here are some assistive technologies-based apps:
It is a mobile app keyboard. The app has a customized list of names, feelings, needs, pronouns, and word endings. It is helpful for those children with ASD who know how to type.
The Aut2Speak app has a unique keyboard and works for iOS and Android devices. Aut2Speak is also helpful for adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities.
2. Autism iHelp:
Autism iHelp is for Apple devices to teach vocabulary. The app uses 24 images of real-world items. These images have an expressive milestone that the child with ASD needs to achieve. Learning is easy and effective for children who are of four years or older.
3. Autism Xpress:
Autism Xpress is useful for autistic people who struggle with facial expressions. It recognizes and expresses emotions with facial expressions. The app has 12 buttons with cartoons representing different emotions like happy, sad, hungry, angry, hungry, etc. Autism Xpress works on all mobile devices.
It is a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) mobile application. It is used on physical boards and through electronic devices. It makes communication widely accessible without hauling around cards, pieces, or devices separate from a computer or phone.
The program speaks the word associated with the picture, and the child repeats it. It helps the autistic child learn to pronounce the word. You can help the child express specific names, places, or objects by creating your cards with voice recordings and images.
Leeloo helps nonverbal people with autism to use Smartphones or tablets to communicate. It uses various images, and the app has a foundation in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Leeloo also uses augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) principles.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy in Autism
5. Other Types of Assistive Technology for ASD
Apart from communication devices, there are some specifically developed tools and devices to improve cognitive skills in children with ASD. They assist in making children more independent and improving their daily lives.
Children with ASD can benefit from a variety of assistive technologies and devices such as:
- Learning Aids: Computer software and multimedia tools help children with ASD learn problem-solving skills. High-tech tools like robots also help them achieve their educational objectives.
- Sensory Aids: Many children with ASD are sensitive to sounds. Noise-canceling headphones help to moderate the sensory environment.
- Functional Aids: There are specialized functional tools that help children with ASD overcome motor-skill barriers. These tools assist with daily tasks such as getting dressed and moving around.
- Portable Word Processor: It is a keyboard with a small LED screen. It addresses motor planning skills for writing
- Talking Word Processor– It is a writing software program to provide speech feedback. It helps improve motor planning and cognitive skills.
- Text To Speech Software – This software converts text from print to audio formats. It addresses poor reading, decoding, fluency, etc.
- Visual Assistants Electronics/Non-Electronic Organizers– These are graphic symbols that lay out events and activities in a sequence to address behavior issues. It also helps to develop task completion and communication skills.
- Headphones: Earphones help cancel extraneous environmental noises and control auditory overstimulation issues.
- Assistive Listening Systems These are useful in deficits in attention and listening comprehension and voice overstimulation issues.
- Virtual Learning Environment: It is an educational intervention that helps overcome persistent differences in social communication and imagination.
- Serious Game: It is for therapy and education and is helpful in improving social and communication skills, visual motor coordination, and sensory integration.
- Augmented Reality: It improves perceptions and reactions of facial expressions and emotions. It uses a video modeling storybook of nonverbal facial cues.
- Virtual Reality: It is used as a treatment to prepare children with autism to handle real-world interaction. It also helps to study how individuals with ASD behave under specific social scenarios.
Mobile learning is assistive technology for people with autism. The main advantage of mobile learning technology is that you can access it anytime and anywhere. You can use it through electronic devices such as Smartphones or tablets.
Many helpful solutions are becoming available to children with ASD due to consistent research into the potential of assistive technologies. With the technology under the direction of professionals who have expertise in the field, people with ASD and their families have more options to get past the barriers of this spectrum disorder.
Assistive technology has addressed some learning disabilities in autism spectrum disorder. It continues to play a critical role in helping students with autism enhance their social skills, communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and functional skills. Assistive technology has become a vital therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder.