Using Technology to Learn and Grow: Computer-Based Intervention for Individuals with Autism (page 2)
In 1996, on a typical family vacation to Disney World, I had an epiphany. I was at an exhibit at Epcot called the “Home of Tomorrow,” when a light bulb went on in my head. My son Blake was 5 years old at the time—3 years into his autism journey. Here I was in the middle of a house that was destined to be the eventual home of my child with autism. Every room was equipped with touch-screen technology that allowed access to the inner workings of the home environment. With just a touch of a button, lights, televisions, ovens—you name it—turned on and off. Icons relayed information to control room temperature, security, bath-tub water temperature, etc. It was really quite unbelievable technology for 1996. Of course, these days it wouldn’t quite be the showcase that it was back then. Today, my telephone (and Blake’s iPod, for that matter) has touch-screen technology. But back in the mid-90s, this was exciting. At the time, I realized that if Blake (as well as other individuals with autism) could access this technology, they would be able to maximize their potential for independence. So, it was then that I realized that accessing technology—all it had and would have to offer—was the key. And it was then that I began my path into computer-based intervention (CBI) for individuals with autism.
Successful Teaching with Computers
Over the past 13 years, I have had the opportunity to work with many students and utilize a plethora of software programs, as well as develop my own for use in my therapy center. What I have discovered is that individuals with autism usually take to the computer like fish to water. This may be somewhat of an overgeneralization, but, nonetheless, it fits. In theorizing why these individuals do so well on the computer, I have come up with several factors. First, the computer software presents itself as a constant in a universe that is quite dynamic. As we all know, those with autism tend to be more comfortable with situations with which they are familiar. Although today’s interactive software adapts as the individual progresses, the format stays the same. Another factor that appears to be related to the success of CBI is the animation often utilized in these programs. When I say “these programs,” I am referring to programs called “specialized software.” Specialized software programs have been distinctly designed for teaching the skills we discuss below. They are available only through certain vendors and are not the type of software one would purchase in a retail store. Although there are some very useful programs that we call “off-the-shelf” software, I don’t generally recommend these as they are not specifically designed for the special-needs population and can often be inappropriate. Other reasons for CBI success include the vertical plane presentation and the multi-modality approach that are often present in specialized software programs.
Over the years, there has been research on the use of CBI with children with autism. In a 2000 report by Moore and Calvert, the impact of computers on children’s vocabulary development was assessed. Progress was compared between utilizing behavioral training and computer training. The results revealed that children with autism were more attentive, more motivated and learned more vocabulary using the computer than engaging in the behavioral program. These results suggest the need for development of computer software to teach vocabulary to children who have autism.
Another study by Bernard-Opitz, Sriram, and Nakhoda- Sapuan (2001) evaluated the training of children with autism in learning problem-solving skills via CBI. The computer program used demonstrated animated solutions to problems. Results concluded that young children with autism can be taught problemsolving strategies with the aid of computer interfaces.
The consensus is that CBI is often more successful than traditional methodologies when teaching language, reading and even social skills development.
I have used specialized software for training in the following areas:
- Cause and effect
- Augmentative communication
- Social skills development
- Attention and processing
- Work skills
- Life skills
Choosing Appropriate Programs
As I previously mentioned, there are many different programs on the market. When choosing a software program for a particular individual, I use a methodology that I call “prescription software.” Using this analytical method helps to increase the likelihood of a successful CBI experience.
When looking at language software, Laureate Learning Systems has created the Seven Stages of Language Acquisition (www.laureatelearning.net/ professionals602/pdfs/SEQBOOK.PDF). They recommend their products based on which stage the individual is in. They have developed this hierarchy to aid parents as well as professional speech and language pathologists in choosing the correct program for their children.
Building Skills Using CBI
Children with autism often have difficulty acquiring reading skills due to language gaps. The latest thinking involves the merging of development of language with literacy. Using a speech pathologist to help interpret the individual’s needs is often recommended as a professional can distinguish the language deficits that are contributing to the reading delays. Several software designers have embraced the language-literacy connection and have incorporated activities in their programs to enhance these skills.
CBI is a good tool when teaching attention and focusing skills. Though these skills will increase just by incorporating CBI, there are some wonderful programs on the market that emphasize them. Exercises are designed to strengthen auditory and visual focusing abilities. I often recommend that the individual begin his/her CBI session with 15-30 minutes of computer exercises. This initial stage serves as a warm-up for the processing system and will enhance the remainder of the CBI session.
One may not think that the computer can provide opportunities for increasing social skills; however, several software developers have created programs that target this area. Social skills software can improve interactions, teach steps and appropriate skills for social situations, demonstrate correct body language and improve the understanding of emotions. Often, these programs use video segments to demonstrate appropriate behavior and then ask questions to determine if the student has gained knowledge from viewing the videos.
Many low-verbal children can improve their communication effectiveness by incorporating augmentative or alternative methods. Picture systems, sign language and dedicated voice output systems are the most common strategies utilized. Several software companies have designed programs to teach skills necessary for augmentative/alternative communication users. My son Blake uses a combination of sign language and a dedicated voice output system to communicate. Due to his computer savvy, acquiring the skills needed for communication success was quite easy. I recall a meeting with a school administrator who was opposed to my choice of a dedicated voice output system. She thought she would prove her point by giving Blake only 2 weeks to master the device or we would have to go with her choice, a less complex (and less expensive) machine. But unbeknownst to her, Blake had been pre-trained on the computer and demonstrated to her his ability to use the more complex device in only one week.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
Washington Virtual Academies
Tuition-free online school for Washington students.
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- The Homework Debate
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- First Grade Sight Words List