Discuss The Background To Autism Education Essay

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This chapter will discuss the background to autism as well as the current methods and technologies out in schools at the moment. It will also discuss the methods and rules for designing for autistic children. The goal of this chapter is to gain a better understand of autism in general which in turn will allow for a more efficient and successful end product.

2.1 What is Autism?

Autism is a neurological disorder, which has no known cure. There are increasing instances of autism diagnoses on a global level than ever before, however there are now more efficient strategies in combating this disorder with the ultimate goal in making it easier for these people to learn. Such strategies include sound and imagery to enhance specific ideas and behaviours. Methods such as those previously mentioned help to engage pupils that are uninterested in learning, and who also display a low attention span.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are a group of disabilities amongst autistic people that can cause, social, communication and behavioural challenges in a real world environment such as going to the shops, or going out with the family for a meal in a restaurant. There is no set time for these disabilities to occur as they can develop anytime in the child up to the age of 22 and most likely will last their entire life. Research conducted amongst eight year olds has indicated an alarming rate of 1 in 150 are now developing ASD disabilities in the United States of America (CDC, 2007).

Autistic people require specialist software that can cater for their needs, such as the development of social skills, literacy and ICT skills. There is an ever-increasing demand for this type of software within schools. Research has shown that around 75% of people suffering from autism have learning difficulties (Coventry University, 2007).

However to gain a better understanding about what exactly is required to build an educational application, it is necessary to research into the learning styles of autistic children in addition to the software currently available. Current software may be effective in maybe one area of the spectrum and may only aid in the development of one skill, however further development may be required to cater for a broader spectrum of educating those with learning difficulties.

2.2 Different Learning Styles of Autistic Children

There is a multitude of different learning challenges for autistic children such as communication issues. There are some children that find it useful to learn using imagery such as symbols and signs; some may find it more effective to learn via text; and other may find it more useful to learn via audio, as their literacy skills are so low. This is most effective when using a mixture of all three styles to provide for the broader spectrum of learning difficulties. Voice-overs are an effective tool that can enhance each style of learning.

Issues such as those mentioned above are dealt with on a day-to-day basis in schools and these issues should be catered for when creating an application for autism.

Recent research has shown that younger children prefer a kinaesthetic learning style. Simply put, this means that the children learn more effectively by performing the activity rather than being told about it or reading about it. As children grow older their learning style adapts to the learning environment they're in, such as listening to the teacher during a lesson or even reading a book in a library (University of Illinois, 2009).

Visual skills are more evident in children with special educational needs much more than listening skills. Information is harder for them to absorb and is harder for their brains to process all incoming information into a concise order. This difficulty is not evident in those children developing at the standard rate (Stokes, 1999).

The previously mentioned differences in child development present numerous obstacles for autistic children. Autistic children can find the combination of whole words as well as grammar difficult to process, which in turn can cause problems when trying to socialise with peers, family and teachers. Computers are able to provide graphical assets, which can aid in the development of visual skills and also help to overcome this issue of socialising that some children with autism have developed (Howlin, 1998).

2.3 Existing Teaching Theory

2.3.1 Applied Behaviour Analysis

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) supports children with learning difficulties. It is applied in the area of speech development however can be adapted to fit most areas. ABA has been described by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board as the following:

'..The design, implementation and evaluation of instructional and environmental modifications to produce socially significant improvements in human behaviour through skill acquisition and the reduction of problematic behaviour. A behaviour analysis program shall be based on empirical research, include the direct observation and measurement of behaviour, and utilize antecedent stimuli, positive reinforcement, and other consequences to produce behaviour change' (BACB, 2009).

In summary, ABA can be used to improve an autistic child's behaviour in certain situations including, how to behave in public or at a dentist/doctors. Using this method a child can be taught how to behave, which they tend to learn rather well and not stray from it apart from a few exceptions.

The ABA cannot only be used to introduce new behaviours but it can also be used to stop bad behaviours a child currently shows. The step-by-step guide provided by the ABA allows children to follow in a structured format, providing a better understanding for the children. Such processes are basically repetitive exercises and can provide positive feedback such as rewards. This will in turn increase motivation for the children to learn more than normal (Wallin, 2004).

2.3.2 Discrete Trial Instruction

Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI) is a component of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). It is essentially a one-to-one method of teaching and learning, which introduces the step-by-step process to teach an autistic child a specific task. It is composed of three main ideas as discussed by (Desrochers et al, 2002). These three ideas are:

A request/instruction given by the teacher.

A response given by the child to the teacher's request/instruction.

The result from the combination of the two previous points.

The DTI can cater for the various needs of an autistic child such as social interaction. This process can be customised to the child's specific needs and requirements. Whilst using this technique, the child is able to choose a reward for completing the task before it begins which, in turn creates excitement and a sense of motivation. Such rewards can be snacks or even games. Also, the tutor gives praise when the child performs to a high standard and completes an action, however negative actions are ignored as to not discourage the child (Autism Spectrum Institute, 2009).

The Interactive Collaborative Autism Network (ICAN, 2000) describes a five-step structure, which breaks down each lesson for the child:

Discriminative Stimulus (Cue, Instruction, Command to Attend) - This is the instruction given to the child from the teacher. The instruction should be clear and easy for the child to understand.

Prompt (P) (Physical Verbal Model) - A prompt is a planned interaction by the tutor to give to the child in order to help them answer correctly or perform a correct action. However children may become reliant on this prompt therefore the tutor must alternate prompts or remove it completely once the child learns the new skill. This reduces predictability and complacency.

Behaviour (B) (Response, Command to Perform) - This is the response made by the child to the instruction given by the tutor.

Stimulus Re-enforcer (SR) (Consequence, Feedback) - Feedback is given to the child once they answer correctly or incorrectly. If the child answers successfully without a prompt they receive a reward whereas the reward is withheld if they answer incorrectly or the tutor gives extra instructions in order for the child to answer correctly. Encouragement is a big factor in how well a child performs in these activities.

Inter-Trial Interval (ITI) (Presentation, Wait Time) - This is a specific time interval between trials. This is a time delay between exercises suggesting to the child that one has been completed and another is about to begin. This allows the child to prepare before the next trial begins, meaning they are more likely to be calm and perform better.

Similar to ABA, the purpose of DTI is to teach children the necessary skills for social interactions in their everyday lives. They are to be made independently with the child where possible, and combined with other tools for teaching, including the use of computers which, in turn means that DTI can be a very successful method of teaching (Association for Science in Autism Treatment, 2006).

2.4 Existing Teaching Solutions

2.4.1 Computers in Education

Howley and Arnold (1995/2005) state that a computer-based and visual approach for representing social stories could have a motivational effect on learning for the child. The first computerised social story attempt was made using digital Hypercards (Hagiwara & Myles, 1999). These cards worked as organised information databases which was available as a graphical and text on-screen activity. This approach had proved to be positive, however in current years has been replaced by PECS and Makaton.

Combining pictures and social stories could be an effective way of improving the social development of autistic children. Using a computer to combine these two methods could be very a useful and efficient tool for all parties involved. The customised activities can be interactive in real time or printed out and practiced at home or classroom. Alternatively when the child is at home they can print out what they have done and take it to school.

2.5 Existing Software

2.5.1 PECS

Bondy and Frost first developed the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) in 1994 (Bondy & Frost, 2002). PECS is used to enable people with communication difficulties to interact with each other through the initiation of communication. PECS encourages people to communicate by giving instructions and actions for the user to perform. It was first implemented in the Unites States of America and has received wide recognition for its strict use of communication initiation techniques.

The PECS method of teaching utilises cards with imagery to represent sentences or key words, which a lot of children find difficult to do. For example if a child wanted to eat a banana or a biscuit, they would find and place the matching picture card onto the teacher's or carer's hand to initiate the communication. The child's immediate family or even friends can also use these cards to interact with the child, meaning the child can continue learning yet in a non educational environment (http://www.pecs.org.uk/general/what.htm).

The PECS cards are quite customisable, much like the Makaton method of teaching. They can be hand-drawn or even an image that the child responds well to. This type of learning is very effective and if designed properly, can be implemented into a computer-based activity. The child would be able to select any image from a large database of images and could include a very simple navigation menu so that it is easy to follow.

There are around six phases to PECS and these are discussed below (http://www.polyxo.com/visualsupport/pecs.html):

Spontaneously requesting items or activities.

Generalise the skills gained from first phase whilst travelling further to initiate a request, such as another room or to a person further away.

Encouraging the child to choose a preferred item from multiple items placed on a board, as a game or activity they enjoy the most.

Introduce sentence structure by combining a picture for 'I want' along with a picture for the item / activity they have chosen. This will allow the child to associate the two and will help them to learn that they need to say the sentence before just taking it.

Encouraging children to reply when the teacher, parent, carer etc makes a request; for example 'What do you want?'. The child will have to embellish their sentence even further.

Encourage children to comment on elements of their environment, maybe by asking them why they like a certain object.

Research (Baron-Cohen, 2002) has shown that by using the concept of photographs-in-the-head, children could further learn mental states by the use of cartoon thought-bubbles. The bubble is used to represent what the individual was thinking. Results from their research showed a vast improvement in the understanding of what state of mind someone was in after using these methods.

The concept of PECS is very useful as it shows the advantages of using images to replace words to aid autistic children and others with learning difficulties. Autism has been researched many times with similar conclusions. Imagery and Audio are proven methods of educating those with learning difficulties.

2.5.2 Makaton

Makaton is a language programme with a source of highly functional vocabulary widely used throughout the autistic community. This is utilised especially in schools catering to those with special needs that can help develop skills for autistic individuals in communication, language and literacy. Makaton is primary method of communication between those with special needs and the people they interact with everyday (http://www.makaton.org/about/ss_what.htm).

Makaton has two vocabularies, which are as follows:

Core Vocabulary

This provides users with basic, everyday concepts that are increased in complexity as the user progresses through the programme. This is the first vocabulary users are presented with and will provide them with the core knowledge. There are 450 essential concepts within this resource.

Resource Vocabulary

This is a much larger topic-based resource that includes broader life experiences and that can form links with Core Vocabulary. There are over 7000 concepts included within this resource expanding and interlinking with the Core Vocabulary, allowing the child to create fully customisable sentences/stories.

Makaton symbols were created by a group of experienced tutors amongst others that were working within the field of special needs. These symbols were consulted upon and agreed before they were published (Walker et al, 1985).

Makaton symbols reflect the following criteria and these are as follows:

The symbols should be as pictographic as possible

The symbols should be uncomplicated and easy to draw

Using the Makaton symbols within Core and Resource Vocabulary they will provide a visual representation of social interaction for the individual rather than aural. The symbols can be used with speech, text or individually in order to aid the autistic individual whatever their level is.

Makaton is vital for the autistic community and has been updated to keep up with the UK's ever-growing multi-cultural society, however the last revised update was in 1996. Makaton is used in the UK but not only that, it is now adapted for use in forty countries.

Each stage of a child's development of communication, language and literacy should be personalised as they al have different experiences therefore can't follow a set guideline. Using core and resource vocabulary allows for full flexibility in creating a user-specific story/scenario. The fact that this process is very flexible, it enables the child to work at their own pace, so that they gain a full understanding. If the child does not show a full understanding then progress to the next stage of development will cease. Core vocabulary is an excellent tool for users with a higher level of communication yet still need the support of some symbols.

Makaton is so versatile that it provides vocabulary specifically targeted towards the child's carer so that they can promote social interaction whilst outside of school i.e. a home environment. Not only this but it will also encourage the child to develop their skills outside of a school environment. If the child is able to follow this pattern of using the symbols at home, they will see a greater improvement than they would have if only practiced at school. Resource vocabulary has the largest content base of the two vocabularies and chances are, it will contain most, if not all concepts for any individual, depending on experiences, lifestyle and age.

There are different levels of usage for Makaton and these along with examples are as follows (Corker & Rice, 1996):

Functional - where a single symbol can represent a whole sentence or message













(Figure shows how a single word can represent an entire sentence)

Keyword - where key symbols/signs are used to represent meaning but not the grammatical words to complete a sentence such as 'The', 'is', and 'an'.













(Figure shows how sentences can be created without the grammatical words)

Symbol - where symbols and signs are implemented for the entire sentence.













(Figure shows how each word in a sentence has its own symbol/sign.)

However when using these symbols and signs, care must be taken as there can be more than one symbol or sign for the same word. An example of this is shown below:



(Figure shows how there are multiple symbols for one word in some cases)

The example above shows that you can both eat with cutlery and eat with fingers. The user must carefully choose the correct, relevant one.

This also needs to be taken into consideration during the design phase of the application. Makaton is an extensive resource that if used well can lead to significant progress for those individuals with communication difficulties.

2.5.3 Social Stories

Social stories are another method of teaching for children with ASD. The goal of social stories is to teach the individual a particular social skill using imagery, quite similar to PECS. Social stories focus on social situations and interactions from a child's perspective (http://www.polyxo.com/socialstories/introduction.html).

Examples of how social stories can be used are:

Behaving in different environments e.g. during a lesson in school, how to behave in a restaurant.

Communication issues such as listening when somebody else is speaking.

Going to the toilet or even having a bath and/or shower.

This method of teaching is very flexible and can be used by anyone that is close to the child. The more practice a child gets, the easier the information will be processed meaning a particular social story will not be needed anymore. There are books that have been released which focus only on social stories. All of the stories are printable which means they are a portable source of education. These stories are also customisable so that they can be adapted to suit the needs of the individual.

Social stories can come in book or e-book formats. The prices of these books are relatively high as they're seen as specialist educational books. The books are an invaluable source for the child and can benefit them in many ways. A major benefit is that the child can practice a change in routine with an adult so that they are fully prepared when it occurs (Del Valle et al, 2001). The child can use the story as a guide on how to behave in the situation (Gray & Garand, 1993).

Research (http://autism.healingthresholds.com/therapy/social-stories) has shown that there are several sentence types used in social stories and these are as follows:

Descriptive (De) - who, what, where and why details

Directive (Di) - states appropriate social instructions in specific situations

Perspective (P) - describes potential feelings the child may feel during the scenario

Affirmative (A) - describes what other people are thinking or feeling during the scenario.

Cooperative (Co) - describes how other people may try to help the individual in certain scenarios.

Control (Cn) - are created by the child to help remember strategies that work for the individual

Below is a customised story using some of these sentence types:

When we go to the shoe store

There will be many shoes to choose from. (De)

I might not know which shoes I like. (P)

That is okay with everyone. (A)

I can hold onto my string while I decide. (Cn)

When I decide about the shoes, I will tell the grown-up. (Di)

The grown-up will go get the shoes for me. (Co)

Rowe (1999) has stated that social stories can aid in the organisation of social ideas and cues that were previously disorganised. Also by using image, video and audio to replace teacher to pupil or parent to child teaching, social stories may reduce the anxiety of social relationships for a child (Scattone et al, 2002). This method ensures that the child can concentrate on the information and content of the social story rather than what is going on around them in the surrounding environment.

Research has shown that social stories can reduce behavioural issues and help to increase social awareness so that when the child does eventually venture out into the world, they are able to cope with the majority of scenarios they may encounter. When a story is eventually phased out due to the child fully learning that scenario and behaviour, they should in turn be able to transfer this theory into a new situation (De Valle et al, 2001). The study however may be flawed, as there were a limited number of test subjects, five in total. The main reason this is flawed is that no one child is the same and the differences are sometimes huge.

A recent article written in the passed few years (Reynhout & Carter, 2006) stated that they'd discovered whilst many social stories were effective on average, not every case was effective. This means that the social stories were hit and miss as to whether they would succeed in teaching the children the correct behaviour, albeit the theory is still relevant and to some degree a vital step forward to increasing autistic children's social skills.

These issues must be considered when designing the application to provide a broad scope and ensure a higher success rate. Perhaps the reason why some social stories were not successful was because the story itself was not common in most children and on average, irrelevant.

In summary, social stories can provide useful stimuli to aid the development in a child's social skills. Symbols can provide solutions to imagery short falls. Sentences that flow into a story can be useful in social situation training. Practicing social situations in the classroom can assist in real world scenarios.

2.5.4 Communicate In Print

Communicate In Print is a symbol desktop publisher created by Widgit Software. It includes a set of literacy symbols both in colour and in black and white. It is the preference of the user which style they want to use. Communicate In Print is the latest software on the market and as such, used by many of the special needs schools.

This software can be used to create books, worksheets and posters for use with people that have both communication and learning difficulties. It can be used to create illustrations within a fully flexible layout or within a selectable template. Not only is it possible to use the software with the provided images and symbols but also it is also possible to insert the users own digital photos and Internet saved images for added personalisation. This is excellent software as it is fully customisable for each user with uploading of their own images but they have the option to add in text or symbols.

There is also graphic supported text available to the user. The user types in one of the 27,000 available words and a relevant symbol will appear above that specific word. This provides instant feedback to the user, which is very useful for teachers as well as the pupils. Text and graphics can be freely moved anywhere on the page as well as resized to suit the users individual needs. There is a lot of functionality within this software however perhaps there is too much. The user may be overwhelmed with all of the options to choose from.

Communicate In Print from Widgit is fully downloadable from the Internet which means accessibility for all Microsoft computers is guaranteed although it is not available for use on a Macintosh.

Communicate In Print is a great tool for teachers in specialist schools to build lessons and learning materials for the children. Not only can the teachers use the software but the children can also use it to create their own customised stories and sentences that are relevant to them, although most likely it will be the teachers and classroom assistants using this software.

This software is very similar to Makaton and PECS however is more versatile due to its desktop publishing capabilities. These capabilities have ensured that Communicate In Print is the most widely used software within in the special needs school that acting as a client for this project (Glebe School, Whitley Bay).

Communicate In Print forms the basis for the application. The difference between the application and the current software is that there is scope for this project to use simple animations and short reflective quizzes to engage the user rather than having them follow a set structure where only one style of learning is possible. This will be what makes the final product more unique than current applications already available.

Communicate In Print also allows users to input speech bubbles to enhance the illustrations to include the state of mind. It is as simple as dragging one of the many speech bubble shapes onto the screen and start typing. This text is also symbolised which confirms the versatility of this software. Colours can also be altered to stimulate the users' creativity, for example; changing an apple from red to green. This ensures that all assets are customisable which increases the users interest.

This software is continuously being updated with more symbols and is easily downloadable from the widgit website. There are free symbol sets available but some of the sets are better quality and can be purchased for a small fee.

An example of Communicate In Print is shown below. It is the story of Billy Goats Gruff supported by humorous graphics (http://www.widgit.com/products/inprint/books/billy-goats-gruff/billy-goats-gruff.htm):

(Figure 2.5.4 shows Billy Goat Gruff story used by some special schools.)

Clearly some of the symbols are standard such as 'nice' and 'field' whereas some will have been designed to fit the style of story for the user such as 'Billy goat'. In using this software, it is user friendly and inspirational for the project in terms of examples of activities children will find useful and engaging.

2.6 Teaching & Motivating Children with Autism

The design of a learning application for autistic children needs an understanding of the users' learning and development requirements. Three areas to aid this are discussed within this section, i.e. how children learn, what motivates learning and how software can implement these requirements.

2.6.1 ARCS Model

Researching what motivates children to learn is very important when designing this application. Therefore research is required for the most effective approaches that could be used to structure the application. Siegel (2003) discovered that autistic children are more motivated to please themselves as opposed to pleasing others around them. If the child's attention wanders elsewhere then the application may prove ineffective.

The implementation of many motivational techniques in order for the child to learn effectively and remain stimulated. The ARCS Model was designed by Keller as a method of bypassing such obstacles mentioned earlier in the design phase (Keller, 1987/1996). Keller theorises the four motivational factors for autistic children are attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction.





Incongruity, conflict


Learning requirements

Natural consequences


Present worth


Unexpected results


Future usefulness


Positive outcomes


Need matching


Negative influences



Self confidence




(Table 2.6 showing ARCS categories (Keller, 1987).)


The users attention must always be maintained when performing a task. If their attention is not there then the software or task will not be effective. Keller (1987) states that in order to engage interest, one must find the perfect medium between boredom and hyperactivity. To initiate this perfect medium, multiple selections could be incorporated from the corresponding column in Table 2.1 above. Varying the media types used in the application could also help to keep the users interest such as mixing animation with audio and still imagery. Figure 2.5 showing the 'Billy Goats Gruff' story would be a good example of humour. That could be mixed with audio and simple animation to keep the learners interest.


When designing for autistic children it is good practice to draw upon examples from existing skills as well as past experiences. It is pivotal to enable full user control to choose which information they access and when, as well as to use a clear language (Keller, 1987).


When children start an application their confidence will be low however this can be improved by providing a constant level of feedback about the successes gained within the application. The level of difficulty should gradually increase the further the child moves into the system (Keller, 1987).


Positive feedback is very important for the user and should be provided on completion of each task although for very simple tasks praise should be limited unless it is at the child's current level. (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2008).

All of these aspects should be taken into account during the design phase and it is vital to implement each into the application. As the child will have experienced tasks like these before they will have an underlying confidence in order to complete the task successfully. This will increase user satisfaction upon completion with little aid from the tutor.

2.7 Interface Design and Usability

This section will investigate how a user interface for a child can be made more user-friendly. It will discuss the guidelines provided by many experts in what they believe to best suit young learners with autism.

2.7.1 Usability

Usability is a big factor in whether or not an application is successful or a failure. Usability, simply put, means how easy an application is to use for example, navigation. It also measures how effective the system is at completing objectives for the user (Feldstein & Neal, 2006). In order to obtain acceptance of the product, it is necessary to be fully aware of the design framework surrounding usability (Shneiderman, 1998).

It can be broken down into six distinct areas according to experts in the field (Preece et al, 2007) and these are as follows:

Efficiency- the user must be able to complete a task with relative ease such as navigating to the required screen with minimal mouse clicks.

Effectiveness- the system must complete all of its proposed objectives set out in its design phase. If it does not then it wont be successful.

Safety- the system must be able to create a safe environment for the user and any mistakes made are minimal, such as typing in an incorrect word and wanting to start again. Errors must be able to be reversed.

Utility- the system should have all relevant buttons and functions in order to fulfil a specific task. If it is lacking in required functions then the learner cannot complete the task therefore will lose interest.

Learning ability- the system should be easy to learn for the child in terms of functionality and navigation. If it is difficult the young learner will not want to use the system often.

The system should be easy to remember. This is similar to the above characteristic but the system should be easy enough to learn and for the user to be able to retain that knowledge of functionality without having to revisit a user guide.

One must be aware of these areas when designing the application as if it doesn't follow these careful guidelines then it could fail before it is even finished being made.

2.7.2 Interface

There are some important issues to consider when designing an interface, as it is a very important phase of the pre-production phase. The usability features stated earlier (Preece et al, 2007), need to be considered by not used as a set guideline. Accessibility and support within the application need to be evident in the system, especially when designing for users with autism or other learning difficulties. These need to be supported by standard design guidelines so that the system is as competent as can be.

The Usability Engineering Lifecycle (Mayhew, 1999) suggests that the interface should be considered early in the design phase so that everything has been thought of, which in turn means that there is less chance of something being missed, such as a vital interface feature. Such a feature could be a button to take the user to a new page instead of being stuck on the homepage.

As children with autism do not like change, consistency needs to be applied throughout the interface as to not deter the user. Maintaining this strict rule means the user can perform other tasks with ease such as navigation (Cummine et al, 2000).

Visual learning is most preferred for children with autism especially at a young age. The use of familiar icons can aid the child in learning and following the system with relative ease. Howlin (1998) states that imagery could have a positive influence within a learning application. The reason being is that '…few demands on the child's cognitive, linguistic and memory skills'. Simply put, imagery is more interactive and fun for the child therefore they have less hard of a time trying to remember tasks, and can process ideas more easily.

Location indicators are an effective way of letting the user know their exact location within the system. Such indicators could be 'breadcrumb' navigation techniques meaning that they are made aware of where they have come from and where they are. If properly implemented into a system, this technique can aid in preventing the child becoming agitated if they get lost. If this navigation is not consistently on each page then this results in a change in the child's routine which may cause the child to be upset, which in turn can reduce enjoyment of the application and may prevent users from gaining information (Jordan & Powell, 1995).

Specific font styles e.g. sizes should be implemented to aid in the representation of information for the user, along with headings for new sections within the application. The child must also be able to read the text provided to them and that its presentation is important in order to aid the child in a fuller learning experience (Walker & Reynolds, 2000).

An interface agent can provide descriptions of tasks and controls within the application so make the user at ease from the outset. Again, like the lack of location indicators, could cause agitation and frustration for the child (Mandel, 1997).

Animations are a great tool for easing a child into an activity. It provides a break from the norm with the use of character animation instead of text based learning. Characters on screen should not be distracting to the user but bring the text on the screen to life. A good application will be effective in making the child want to use it rather than being asked to by the teacher (Hanna et al, 1999).

Druin et al (2001) found that text-based interfaces were not as efficient as those with visual aids and graphical metaphors. This reiterates the effectiveness for an onscreen character.

Children including those with autism require feedback immediately, as the lack of result will deter the user. If they press a button and nothing happens, the child will immediately try to press the button again and again until a result occurs. Constant audio such as voice over or sound effects can be annoying for older users yet younger children expect it. This is a good point to mention, as if an older child were to use an application with constant audio and imagery, they may leave. Each age group is different to one another.

Research (Lynch & Horton, 2004) has suggested a recommended screen are of 760px * 410px minimum to provide enough room for the user to manoeuvre around the application with relative ease. This screen size will prevent or significantly reduce the need to scroll to view new information.

Donker & Reitsma (2007) suggest a minimum button size of 27px * 27px should be implemented for those without learning difficulties. However since this application is for users with autism, the buttons need to be significantly bigger so that they can be pressed more easily, whether it is by finger on a touch screen or by clicking a mouse.

2.7.3 'Eight Golden Rules'

There are eight golden rules set out by Shneiderman (1998) when designing an interface for younger learners with autism. They are however only to be used as guidelines where appropriate; as some may be irrelevant for the task one might be partaking in. It is plausible to adapt these guidelines to suit the needs of the desired application. Using these rules as a guideline it is more likely that the final product will be successful and user-friendly.

The golden rules are as follows:

Strive for consistency- everything from system menus, colour, layout, fonts and help tools should be consistent throughout the application. If these are all consistent then it will provide a level of predictability rather than a sense of the 'unknown'.

Shortcuts- shortcuts should be used throughout the system so that the user can get where they need to be with minimal clicks.

Feedback- feedback should be available for all actions whether it is good or not. This will keep the users interest and focus on the task at hand.

Completion- the user will need closure on an activity therefore feedback should be available to aid this conclusion.

Errors- error prevention should be evident in the system, which will reduce user frustration.

Correction- the option to reverse any actions should be possible in the system. Again this will reduce user frustration.

Control- a level of control for the user should be implemented and task made fun and engaging. User dissatisfaction should be zero or very minimal.

Information overload- avoid supplying the user with too much information at any one given time. Screens in an application should be simple and easy for the user to intake information. Any strain on the learner's brain should be avoided at all costs.

If each of the aspects is applied appropriately throughout the system during the design phase, it can either make or break the success of the end product. Although these guidelines are just common sense, it is good to have them in a list so that they can be referred to at any time throughout the design phase.

2.7.4 HCI for users with autism

When designing a user interface for autistic children it is important to recognise the main requirements for the child whilst also taking note of the HCI (Human Computer Interaction) principles outlined by Jones & Okey (1995), Shneiderman (1998) and Norman (1998).

Autistic children have a strict tunnel-like focus and are most likely to follow a set routine. The following features need to be acknowledged in order to create the perfect environment for an autistic child to learn (Murray, 2002):

Visual cues






Unhurried pace

Dragging actions with a mouse could cause some level of difficulty for young children. One approach to counteract this would be to have the user click to attach the object to the mouse cursor then click again to release it. This relieves the action of holding down a mouse button for any extended period of time (Inkpen, 2001). Another approach would be to ensure that time periods dragging, are significantly reduced by closing the distance a user must drag the object from to.

Again these characteristics will prove useful when designing the application as these, along with the eight golden rules previously mentioned, can create a recipe for success.

2.8 Multimedia - Engineering Lifecycle

The Usability Engineering Lifecycle was created and developed by Mayhew (1999). Due to the context of this project, one can examine the below diagram and use it as a guideline for the production and feedback process.

(Figure 2.8 shows various stages of the Usability Engineering Lifecycle)

The lifecycle is only a guideline and not a set in stone guide by which to follow for very production. Mayhew (1999) states that one may adapt, add or skip some steps in order for it to fit ones application.

2.9 Requirements Analysis

Research has show that there are roughly four areas of requirements analysis. Such areas are User Profile, conceptual task analysis, usability goal setting and finally platform capabilities and constraints. The following areas need to be discussed in order to truly understand the basic requirements needs for the target audience.

2.9.1 User Profile

In order to compile an initial user profile, one must first investigate the types of user that will be using the system.

It is of vital importance to know and understand the user to a degree of detail before even thinking about starting the design of the system otherwise the end product will not be as successful as it could have been having researched these. Faulkner (2000) lists the various types of user as follows:

Direct Users: Users that are able to interact with the system themselves to carry out a task or activity. To make this research relate to the topic, the autistic child as well as the teacher will be a direct user of the system.

Indirect Users: Due to the autistic child's ability to carry out a task may be too low to use the system, the teacher or carer may need to assist the child in using it.

Remote Users: Although this type of user is rare and not within the client school, it is still important to note that there are some children who are unable to use a system and must rely solely on another person, whether it be the teacher or carer, to use the system al of the time on their behalf whilst they watch.

Faulkner (2000) gives an explanation of the different traits a user may have:

The Novice User: The novice user may have little to no experience of a computer and may only be a first time user. Novices will need continuous feedback from the system so that they are aware of their progress or actions, such as buttons highlighting and 'breadcrumb' style navigation, meaning they will know where they came from, and where they are currently. They will require easy-to-understand navigation guides and menus to guide them through the system until they have fully learned it and are capable of going solo.

The Intermediate User: The intermediate user may use the system for short periods of time, possibly due to a turn based rota the class may have. They may possess a broad overview of the system and can show both novice and expert characteristics. This is the most likely user trait within the client school, as their children are used to using a computer every day and can function it relatively well.

The Expert User: The expert user has confidence and experience using the system and has a clear understanding of how to interact with the system. Expert users need to be provided with shortcuts in order to accelerate through tasks faster. This type of user could be that of an autistic child with very high literacy and communication skills compared to their peers. This is a very rare occurrence yet still occurs in schools.

2.9.2 Contextual Task Analysis

The main aim of this task analysis is to design a system, which helps the user perform their day- to-day tasks more efficiently such as social stories, and to also assist in the development of their story structure skills. The users' needs are very important when designing tasks for the application as well as how they may overcome any problems need to be addressed. This will be discussed further in the design chapter with decisions on action reversals.

2.9.3 Usability goal setting

Usability Goals are created from requirements gathered from the research section of the report. These requirements will be listed within the next chapter, Chapter Three- Requirements.

2.9.4 Platform capabilities and constraints

The chosen platform for this application is Microsoft Windows although it will be able to work on an Apple Macintosh as that too can play ".swf files". There are different guidelines and constraints for each platform although none that will effect this application in a big way.

Through this research, one can now create a list of requirements for the application to follow and use as a guideline when during the design phase, as to not get off track. The research in this chapter will allow for a clear and concise set of requirements, which in turn will make for a better end product.