Many people with ASC (autism spectrum conditions) have intricacy in identifying emotions in themselves and other people. For young children learning to speak, suffering from autism present a special problem to their teachers as well as parents as they are faced with the challenge of teaching these unfortunate children how to express themselves through speech. The importance of effective communication cannot be underestimated. Yet teaching students with autism is not an easy task, it requires patience and use of special assistive technology tools to help these children learn how to form words and use them effectively. There are various technologies that can be used, while other are simple some of these technology are so advanced and needs extra training to use them. One of the basic technologies that has been used for a number of years is Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS ) studies have indicated that this technology improves communication of children with autism This paper intends to discuss on the use of this assistive technology to educate students with Autism.
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People with autism spectrum conditions have impairments in public communication; included in this core impairment is an intricacy with the social emotional reciprocity in addition to nonverbal communication such as gestures, facial expression and eye contact. Regularly, people with autism spectrum conditions have difficulties identifying emotions particularly complex emotions that call for metalizing (jealous, embarrassed, sarcastic) in both themselves and other people. All of these complications can add to challenges in keeping and making friendships and other encouraging peer relationships.
WHAT IS ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY?
Assistive technology tool means any piece of equipment, item, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, off-the-shelf, or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve functional abilities of people with disabilities. Assistive technology service directly assists people with a disability in the acquisition, selection, or use of an assistive technology.
The Use of Assistive Technology to Educate Students with Autism
The theory of mind is one conceptualization used to explain the social impairment in autism spectrum conditions (Golan and Bauminger, 2006). The theory states that people with autism spectrum conditions have an intrinsic disability in terms of recognizing the psychological perspective of others. That is, they have problem imputing emotion, meaning, and intent to other people. Deficits in this part are serious to effective social interaction, to a great extent it is anticipated on knowing what other people are feeling or thinking.
Getting to know emotions is one aspect of the capability to take another person’s perspective. A number of studies have researched on the interventions to educate individuals with autism spectrum conditions to identify emotions. These comprise social skill instruction (Golan and Bauminger, 2006) and assistive technology interventions. For instance, Bauminger (2006) examined the use of a behavior based intervention to assist in the emotion recognition skills of 15 high responding kids with autism, ages 8 to 17. The intervention involved lessons from a social skill syllabus used in the school setting for 2 to 4 hours per week for 7 months. The lessons comprised of activities such as role play and just plays with a normally developing peer and working on the skills acquired from each weekly lesson with parents at home. The end results showed advancement in the kid’s emotional ability and knowledge to give examples of difficult emotions. Specially, at post intervention, the partakers with autism were likely to start social communication with their peers and spent a lot of time displaying encouraging social behaviors.
In another study, Hadwin, Baron-Cohen, Howlin, and Hill (1996) taught children with autism spectrum conditions to foresee and identify emotions in others using a computer based intervention called the Emotions Trainer. Partakers between the ages of 12 and 20, incorporated in either a control group or an experimental, were diagnosed with either Asperger syndrome or autism. The program comprised of five sections that incorporated asking the user to select the correct emotion out of four options explaining photographed facial expressions, events or situations, and descriptive captions and objects. Contrasted to the control group, the experimental group showed improvement in their ability to recognize emotions in tale and cartooned circumstances that triggered an emotional response, but not in their recognition of emotion in pictures (facial expressions), on which both intervention and control groups demonstrated improvement. The following section will examine Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) as one of the key assistive technology used to assist students with autism.
Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS)
This is a low technology assistive system created as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), where pictures are used in place of words to assist children with autism to communicate because of their problems in speech development.
At the initial stage of using PECS, a child is provided with a number of pictures of favorite toys or foods. If the child requires any of these things, he simply gives the picture of the specific item to a therapist, teacher or even caregiver (Charlop-Christy, et al. 2002). The person receiving this picture in return hands the toy or food to the child. Through this exchange, communication is then strengthened.
Similarly PECS can as well be applied to make suggestions regarding things viewed or heard within the surrounding. For instance, a student might view a car passing by and give a picture of a car to his teacher. The objective of this method is that, when a child starts to acknowledge the importance of communication, the child will start using natural speech instead of pictures.
How this assistive technology works
A student with autism can be taught how to use this technology by his teacher, caregiver or a therapist, who understands the way this technology works. Normally, an applied behavior analysis (ABA) method is applied. Through this method, prompts are offered to control the picture exchange. More so, in the initial stages of PECS training, the student selects a picture he wants and gets what is on the picture, for instance food. Receiving food is meant to give a positive reinforcement to the student for his use of the picture in communicating.
Normally PECS training entails six stages:
Stage I: the teacher lists down a list of the student’s favorite items normally starting with foods. A single item from the list is chosen for the opening training lesson, and item’s picture is drawn. The item can be put in a place visible to the student, to allow the student to view the item but not to pick it. When the child seems interested in the item, the teacher gives such a student a picture card of the item. The teacher guides the student’s hand to pick the picture and give it to the teacher. The moment the teacher receives the card from the student, he communicates loudly the want the student wants, for instance, he say “so you want the cake” and give the cake to the child.
Stage II: the teacher moves a little distance in order for the student to move towards him to give the picture card to the teacher.
Stage III: the student is provided with several picture cards so that he can choose the one representing what he wants. The selected picture card is given to the teacher, at this moment; the student may use a binder or a communication board where the cards will be held.
Stage IV: at this point, the student is provided with a card written on “I want____.” The student has to use this card together with the picture card illustrating what is wanted. The concept is that the student will learn the way to communicate through complete sentences. Those students who can not read the words can be in a position to recognize the words written as symbols on the card.
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Stage V: prior to this stage, the student has never been directly what he wants, at this stage, the teacher asks the student directly what he wants, and then waits for the student to select a picture representing what the students wants. This lesson builds the basis for future communication between the student and the teacher when the teacher wants to find out what the student wants.
Stage VI: the moment the student is able to fluently use PECS, and has managed to generalize the system to use it to communicate with other people apart from the teacher; the student is taught the way make suggestions on something that he has observed. The teacher picks up something interesting and asks the student to say what the item is. At that stage the teacher also picks a card with “I see _____.” The student is to match the card with what he is seeing. In this manner, the child is able to learn how to communicate what he observes together with his experiences to other people (Charlop-Christy, et al. 2002).
Theory behind this technology
The express reinforcement coming from immediately receiving what a student with autism is the main principle of PECS. A student is able to show his inner wishes without speaking any words, and be rewarded. Such tangible rewards greatly reinforce such a child compared to social rewards, particularly during the initial stage of communication. PECS could as well improve the social relations of an autism child. This is because the child is able to learn to initiate communication; more so, at this point the child is not expected to speak, so the child is less intimidated.
How effective is the technology
A number of studies carried out have indicated that PECS is useful tool in helping children with autism. For example, a study carried out by Schwartz, et al. (1998) on eighteen preschool students suffering from autism and with speech difficulties established that those children were able to communicate through PECS in their school days. However, after a training of one year, nearly 50 percent of these children stopped to use PECS and instead began to natural communicate (Schwartz, et al. 1998). More studies supporting this observation were found by (Charlop-Christy, et al. 2002). generally, evidence from a number of studies have established that PECS assistive tool is an effective technique in developing natural speech in children suffering from autism, particularly if they are taught how to use this tool when is below six years of age (Bondy, 2001).
This technology has no known side effectives to children with autism. Though a number of parents showed concerns that their children could end up depending on PECS as their communication tool, and fail to develop their natural speech, this concern lacks any credible support from studies. On the contra, there is credible evidence showing that children suffering from autism are able to learn through PECS to develop their speech quicker compared to those who have not used PECS (Bondy, 2001).
Children suffering from autism conditions have impairments in public communication; included in this core impairment is an intricacy with the social emotional reciprocity in addition to nonverbal communication such as gestures, facial expression and eye contact. Such children need special assistance when at school to improve on their communication special speech. Teachers and caregivers have a number of assistive technologies that they can use to assist these children. As discussed above one of the very effective and easy to use assistive technology is Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), though it involves only six stages, they offer the child with the required speech mechanism and enable a student with autism to al least be able to form words and communicate his feelings. Nevertheless, as noted by Charlop-Christy, et al. (2002) this technology can be used together with other technologies for better results.
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