‘E-Enhanced’ Learning For The Autistic Spectrum

Nicola Duffy, Patrick Campbell and Billy Bennett.

Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

Background

There is growing momentum for mainstream inclusion of children and young people with special educational needs [1]. Successful inclusion should be underpinned by a commitment to reach out to all students [2]. People on the autistic spectrum have variations in sensory impairments and a delay in social communication [3]; in addition up to 75% have underlying learning disabilities [4]. Autism is highly heterogeneous; each child has its own individual characteristics of strengths and weakness. The use of computer software has opened up new possibilities for learning [5]; however, preliminary findings of this study has identified that many educational packages used at home and in schools have not been designed specifically to meet the needs and abilities of people with cognitive impairments, or those who have difficulties in processing auditory and visual Information.
 

Aims and Objectives

This study seeks to highlight if parents and other proxies can act as participatory designers in the development of educational software for people on the autistic spectrum. Findings from a nationwide survey will determine parents and teacher’s attitudes on current educational software used in homes and schools across Ireland. Moreover, this study will present qualitative and quantitative analysis of potential common barriers in communication and the processing of auditory/visual information across the autistic spectrum. It is expected that these findings could potentially be translated into design solutions in educational software for this group.

Methodology

This study has incorporated a mixed variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Three focus groups with parents, teachers and educational therapists identified common communication and information processing barriers across the autistic spectrum.
Furthermore, each group identified what should be included in educational software specific to the needs of this group. A Nationwide survey identified goals, strengths and underlying disabilities of children across the continuum.

Initial Findings

Research undertaken by this author has highlighted that children with autism can foster non-indigenous language when using computer software, furthermore significant findings of the Nationwide survey of all schools in Ireland that teach children with autism, indicated that the majority of educational software used in the teaching plans of autistic children had either American or British accents and only a small percentage has Irish accents incorporated into the design of the program.
Problems associated with autism include abnormalities in auditory processing [6]; a striking communication characteristic in autistic children is their poor orientation to the human voice and understanding narrative is an inherent complex task [7]. A neuroscientific study identified that familiarity with a speaker’s voice has been shown to enhance its auditory processing in typically developed adults [8].
Moreover, another finding has highlighted that software currently being used in schools and at home are not designed specific to the communication needs of people on the autistic spectrum. Based on the findings from the focus groups and survey a design framework for the development of educational software will be presented, which is hoped, will address the trajectory of ability and needs specific to this group.

References

[1] Farrell, P. & Ainscow, M. (eds) (2002) Making Special   Education Inclusive. London: Fulton.
[2] Humphrey, & Lewis, S (2008) Make me Normal’: The views and experiences of pupils on the autistic spectrum in mainstream secondary schools, Autism 12 (2008), pp. 23–46.
[3] Frith, U. (1989) Autism: Explaining the Egnima. Oxford: Basil, Blackwell.
[4] Dewy, D., Tupper, D.E. (2005): Developmental Motor Disorders: A Neuropsychological Perspective. New York: Guilford, 501
[5] Herskowitz, V (2009): Autism and Computers
[6] Klin, A. (1992) Listening preference in regards to speech in four children with developmental disabilities. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry 763-769.
[7] Dautenhahn, K. (2002) “The origins of narrative – in search for the transactional format of narratives in humans and other social animals,” Cognition and Technology: Co-existence, Convergence, Co-evolution, (IJCT)
[8] Birketta, P., Huntera, M., Randolph, W.P., Farrowa, T.F., Lowea, H., Wilkinson, D.I., Woodrula, P. (2007)”Voice familiarity engages auditory cortex.” NeuroReport

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