Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Could my kids use of technology help them when they are older?

Boy in iPad

I don't shy away from the amount of time my kids spend with tech.  There's no doubt that David uses his iPad for far more than simply entertainment.  Anthony too learns from playing his computer games.  But I wondered, could these also be the basis for helping them develop skills they need for the future?  Or what could be done to help them take advantage of their comfort with tech?

Tech can help us get what we want and reduce stress for lots of people, never mind my future autistic kids. It's easy to see how, for example, ordering NHS prescriptions online is increasingly popular.  Yes, it can be less time consuming, but for my future kids it could also enable them to avoid a busy doctor's surgery if they just aren't feeling like they could cope well with the environment that day.  Given that it's based on technology they are familiar with, it seems that this could give them some independence and control.

The growth in modern technology is changing the range of communication options available for many autistic kids but some things could still be done to help.  Here’s some ideas of what can be done to tech to help my kids as they try to become independent adults.

Reduce the steps needed to do something online

My kids live on routines.  the good thing about them is that each time you only have to remember where you are in a routine to figure out what to do next.  If my son is getting dressed but gets distracted and forgets what he is doing, he just needs to look at what he's got on to know what he needs to next. Only got his pants on... then next it's his shirt.  If he's got everything but his socks and shoes on then it's time for socks.

But as some research suggests, my autistic kids can still forget where they are, and the longer the routine, the more likely this is to happen.   In the online world, this can create problems, since many internet-based functions rely on people being able to follow a certain sequence to achieve a particular end. Shopping on Amazon, entering credit card details, and filling out online forms all rely on a step-by-step processes that need to be followed precisely.  Shorten the process and my kids are more likely to get through it.

Create and use more visual representations

Temple Grandin, author and speaker on autism, says that those with autism tend to interpret the world in terms of visual images, not written language.   She says that technologists need to better understand this so that those with the disorder are better able to do things, like navigate websites. She points out that computer technology is actually ideal for this end, since it has the power to display ideas graphically in a way, say, that a book cannot.

So when it comes to tech, companies can provide autistic people with online tools that don’t just rely on sequences but that instead use visual cues to represent tasks. Some apps, like Sequencing Tools, do provide a range of sequencing support tools, but only for a limited set of online scenarios.

Use more touch screens to augment motor skills

Makes common sense really.  Many autistic people struggle with motor control which can makes things like writing difficult.  This means filling in forms or signing into a building could be challenging.  My own son had a meltdown in a club once when he couldn't fit his name into the box on a form.

Researchers at Queen’s University, suggest that computer input devices, such as iPad touch screens, keyboards and mice may actually be better for those with ASD since they require less fine control to achieve a desired about. Typing, in particular, can help replace handwriting as the primary mode of written communication.  So if my son can 'sign-in' on a screen, he may cope better with the situation.

Biometric feedback to better understand mood

Technology is also helping to make autism diagnosis easier for parents and children. The charity, Autism Together, says that it is developing biometric techniques that it hopes will help improve communication between autistic and neurotypical individuals.  A wristband can track things like sweat response, heart rate and breathing in the hope of creating a better flow of information and shared understanding.

It also wants to help families and care workers dealing with autism get more feedback from those with the condition. It is hoped that, by wearing  the wristbands those caring for autistic people will be able to get real-time information on their mood to help them better manage a situation.

In the last 20 years, the number of people diagnosed with autism has doubled (according to the Centers for Disease Control estimated that autism in the USA).  The National Autistic Society says  around one in 100 people are autistic in UK.  Although half the time I consider technology as something else that can go wrong (if our internet goes out our house becomes meltdown city) I hope that advances in technology can ultimately not only be accessible to my kids but can benefit them and help them engage more in a society that often feels not set up for them to operate in.

What do you think to tech?  Do you think it can make things easier?

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