International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Computer Systems for Children with Severe Autism and Learning Difficulty

Computer Systems for Children with Severe Autism and Learning Difficulty

Friday, May 16, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
S. Y. A. Elzouki , Innovation North, Leeds Metropolitan University, |Leeds, United Kingdom
D. Moore , Inn, Leeds Metropolitan University, |Leeds, United Kingdom
Background: There is much research work concerned with computing as an assistive technology for people with autism. Thus far, however, most of the work has concentrated on people with Asperger Syndrome, with very little concern paid to how such technology might help people with severe autism. The research we will discuss in our proposed presentation is an attempt to begin to redress this imbalance.

Objectives: Conduct an in depth qualitative research concerning the use by children with severe autism of computer technology.

Methods: A longitudinal study over some 14 months was carried out with 8 children in a specialist unit for children with severe autism and learning difficulties, set within a mainstream UK school. A participatory action research approach was adopted. First, a relatively formal baseline study was conducted to establish the extent to which the participants could use a bespoke computer system to identify facial expressions of emotions. Results from this informed the subsequent action research cycles. Each cycle involved creating a simple bespoke system for each child, aimed at their individual level of ability and taking advantage of their individual interests.

Results: Results from the baseline study showed a range of ability to recognise the emotions e.g. one child recognised all expressions while several did not co-operate at all. Results from the action research cycles are interesting but they are too complex to outline here; rather, they will be presented at the conference.

Conclusions: The high number of instances of non-cooperation in the first study indicates the difficulties that working with such children can involve. However, by using systems centred on their individual interests each child in the study was able to enjoy the computer technology and learn from it. Thus our research gives grounds for optimism for the use of computer technology for people with severe autism.

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