Technology really is amazing and provides us with so many support avenues. In this post I want to explore some assistive technology we are using. Assistive technology is defined as technology that is used by individuals with a disability to perform functions that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Examples might be wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs or hearing aids.
For me assistive technology encompasses so much. An example could even be me using google images on my phone to show my non-verbal son where we are going next as a visual aid because he is unable to understand by me telling him verbally.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
One of the main assistive technologies that is associated with autism is augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). This refers to any method of communication used instead or in addition to speech. Low tech versions would be The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) that we use or Makaton. However there are many high tech AAC systems for example speech generating computer devices.
However communication is not where assistive technology ends in relation to autism. Today there are companies such as Industrial Vision Systems manufacturing machine vision and artificial intelligence products opening up all sorts of possibilities for the future.
With a non-verbal son I am very mindful of the importance of visual aids throughout the day. One simple but impactful visual support we use is the Tiimo visual calendar app. Tiimo is able to support my son throughout the day in following a visual timetable on my phone and tablet. The app is able to remind us what is happening and what else we have planned for our day /week. This is particularly useful when following a routine such as bedtime and to aide with transitions or changes throughout the day.
One thing that Tiimo also does is normalise assistive technology. An app that can be used on a smart phone or watch is very easy to integrate into daily life. It is ideal for individuals who struggle with executive functioning and need visual supports throughout the day.
Another way technology is assisting us is visual learning apps, there are many apps designed to aide learning for children. Where these are particularly useful is in the support of visual learners. If pictures are your first language then learning with pictures will be far more productive.
If a student is visually orientated then it makes sense to present materials visually. This could be through an interactive white board, smartphones and tablets. Technology is far more predictable than human interactions and as such more appealing to people that struggle with social communication. As such technology can provide a safe environment for learning that provides confidence for learners that struggle with more traditional learning methods.
I can comfortably say my children have learnt the alphabet and spelling from apps rather than me and they enjoyed doing it this way. One such app that we use is Otsimo which is designed specifically for autistic users.
There are many different examples of artificial intelligence being designed / used to support autistic children. Over the past couple of months we have been working with a QT Robot from LuxAI. I have to say my kids are far more motivated to sit and do some work with a robot than me. Using the robot too show different emotions is a particular benefit, the robot can help the user to learn about social interaction and emotions without any pressure. It is also great for speech therapy and language comprehension.
I am always keen to explore new ways to support my kids and I have consistently found assistive technology very useful. Technological aids tend to be simple to use but with significant impact so I am a fan.
What assistive technology have you come across and does it work for you?