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New Technology Helps Children With Autism Develop Communication Skills



Parents of children with autism are always looking for new ways to learn how to interact with their children while providing them with new educational tools. According to a new study by David Mendell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the Perelman School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, the cost of supporting a child with autism can be 2 million dollars or more. This varies depending on the cost of care, education, residence, and medical expenses. The child’s development and education are the main focuses, and parents of kids with autism are taking advantage of the new advances in technology to help their kids develop their communication skills.

The school for a child with autism can be costly. The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative states that parents can spend approximately $17,000 more than average on a child with these special needs. The costs include services for speech therapy, summer camps and other activities which can help their development. As technology advances, parents of children with autism can take advantage of new computer software which will help in their kids’ development. A new app soon to be on the market will provide a read-out of people’s emotions according to their facial expressions. It will challenge kids to learn these emotional cues and eventually match them to understand how people are feeling. Another application, intended for use by everyone, but designed to help with autistic kids’ development, will use facial expressions to make music–when people smile or frown, the music will change from sad to happy.

Other technologies that have become popular among educators and parents of children with autism are already compatible with mobile devices. A study in Toronto, by researchers at the Institute of Communication Culture and Information Technology, used iPads to record the development of special needs kids’ who were mostly nonverbal communicators. The result of the six-month study demonstrated that these kids developed their communication skills through the new technology by identifying different illustrations presented on the screen of the device. According to the observations, 75 percent of the children also improved their attentiveness and interaction with peers and educators.

Speech and behavioral therapists such as Jordan Sadler are already taking advantage of the new technologies in their classroom to help autistic children develop their communication skills. According to CNN, Sadler used an app called Puppet Pals when two of her students stop communicating with one another. The speech therapist was able to discover what went wrong by recreating the scenario, and helped the kids figure out a better way to solve the problem. In an interview with Elaine Uchuya, a behavioral therapist at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, Uchuya says that new technologies are helpful for children to learn how to express their needs. She uses an application called PECS or Picture Exchange Communication System. This app teaches children to express their desires by showing the educator a picture on the screen of what they want or need. She states that once the child is trained on this application, they are able to use it at home, school and across many settings as a primary way of communicating. As new advances in technology are developing, children with autism have a better chance to develop their skills and interact on a more personal level.

By Marcia Villavicencio

Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
MIT Technology Review
Healthy Day
Elaine Uchuya Interview

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