If we didn’t have the technology we have today, just think how different our lives would be. Without cars and planes, we couldn’t get around as quickly. Without VR technology, training new pilots and soldiers would be a lot more expensive and difficult. Without technology, we wouldn’t have the internet, streaming services, online shopping, 3D printing, smartphones, or GPSs. Technology also plays a huge role in medical care, mental health care, and care for those who find themselves on the autism spectrum. We wouldn’t know what CPI training is, and we wouldn’t have sensory toys, timers, or nonverbal communication programmes either. Many new technologies are changing the way we look after our autistic family members, especially our children. Let’s check out which technologies are leading the way in helping autistic children handle life more easily.
Different types of tech
There are a number of different types of tech that can assist the autistic community and children in particular on a daily basis. These can be broken down into a few basic categories:
- Low tech. Anything that requires no electricity or batteries to operate. This category includes things like picture boards and weighted vests.
- Mid-weight tech. These items are usually fairly easy to operate and quite cost-effective. This category includes things like videos on social skills, battery-operated toys, and timers.
- High-tech. All kinds of digital items. This category includes everything from augmentative communication devices to robotics.
Technology is principally employed to help with the following in autistic children:
- Reading, writing, and maths skills
- Basic communication and social skills
- Handling over-stimulation
Other issues include
- Time management and understanding of time
- Daily living activities like household chores
Let’s break it down
- Reading, writing, and maths skills. There are all kinds of technology out there to assist autistic children with their reading, writing, and maths skills. Usually, difficulties of this nature are due to the child’s inability to block out excess stimulation, like buzzing light bulbs, or their attention spans being too short to get into the work in the necessary depth. Basic tools or ‘tech’ that you can use to minimise distractions and help the information take hold are brightly coloured cards and tabs, standing desks to allow for movement, and stress balls. If you want something a little more high-tech, try noise-cancelling headphones, or audiobooks to replay instructions or videos. The top-of-the-heap options are devices like different kinds of apps and software. These might be slightly more tailored to your child’s specific issues.
- Communication and social skills. Some of the tools that we listed above will be helpful here as well. On the low-tech end, you have options such as social skills card games and Social Stories, developed by Carol Gray. Most mid-tech options are video and audio tools that aim to show young children how to interact or communicate and help them learn by doing. There are also a number of apps built around these same principles, offering multiple-choice activities. Kids can practice and receive feedback on how they’re doing. High-tech options here are extremely costly and usually time and space-consuming. Creating AI with the goal of helping children learn how to interact and communicate is a booming business: there’s Kiwi, the socially assistive robot, and QTRobot from Germany which helps minimise discomfort in social interactions.
- Overstimulation. There are a lot of low and mid-tech options here that are very easy to find and operate. Noise-cancelling headphones, time on a swing or trampoline, or balls and brushes for the child to play with to help keep them calm and focused. In classroom situations, weighted vests can be of great benefit along with ball pits.
- Safety. People on the autism spectrum, no matter how young or old they are, are at risk of becoming runaways or entering into elopements that are less than ideal, without fully understanding the consequences. The usual child-proofing you get for your home may not be enough to ensure that your child is kept safely indoors or in a safe area.
The array of different technologies that exist solely to help our autistic children get through life safely, happily, and comfortably is amazing. We hope that the information shared in this article is useful for you and your child.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
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