The United Nations observes April 2nd as the World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) to raise awareness of autism and Asperger's Syndrome. WAAD highlights the need to help and improve the quality of life of those with autism so that they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.
Parents find it challenging to deconstruct any situation for a special child. Kids are bubbling with energy and when they can't voice out their feelings, parents feel disheartened. Computer scientist Dr Swati Gupta prefers people over programming, but it’s her experience in human-computer interaction that’s led to what may be a breakthrough for youngsters with autism. She developed an app "Talk With Me" that has led some upturn in the tech industry.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that remains with a person for his or her whole life. This condition affects the brain's functions. The first signs usually appear before a child is three years old. People with autism often:
- Find social interaction difficult
- Have problems with verbal and non-verbal communication
- Demonstrate restrictive and repetitive behaviour
- Have a limited set of interests and activities
World Autism Awareness Day Observances
On November 1, 2007, the United Nations (UN) called for one day each year to be designated as World Autism Day. Following this, on December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. They first observed it in 2008.
How is technology contributing?
Mrs Pratibha Singh talks about her child, Mishtu, and tells us how she has raised him. Mishtu is non-verbally autistic. He loves things that have wheels, but he can barely say the word "truck". His special school has a speech therapist, and he has learnt how to identify things.
But how do we explain the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic lockdown to little Mishtu? Mrs Singh states that she uses stories of police and ghosts to help him stay inside. She tries to keep him busy with paintings and teaches him via play-way methods. He imitates actions from cartoons and identifies familiar to him.
A simple way to help Autistic Kids during conversations is through visual calendars and social stories. Some parents have said that they prepare calendars for kids. These calendars mark visual activities that kids recognise and point to. Some parents use American Sign Language (ASL) with their kids. Social stories are over-simplifying broad and complex concepts with stories.
Teachers and parents all over the world widely use these techniques. That's how developers, scientists, doctors, speech therapist and sign language experts have designed these apps to help Autistic Kids. Few of them are mentioned below:
Talk With Me
Talk With Me is an app where children with autism sit alongside people in their lives and have social conversations. It comes with a variety of topics for children to practice. Dr Swati Gupta, founder of Talk With Me, in a study, stated that parents of autistic could use a tablet-based app or digital technology.
With the content crafted by speech and language therapists, the app provides small interactive stories. Children, with even a memory span of as less as three minutes, can use the app with great ease. Talk With Me is fully customisable. Educators and parents can personalise the content according to the child’s needs. The app teaches basic social interaction skills to the kids.
The app is aimed at 5-20 year-olds and uses symbols to prompt language and conversation. It’s not a game you play solo but rather acts as a mirror to help two people engage. Most families perceived their child to have gained increased confidence and participation at school and improved turn-taking in conversations.
You can download the app directly from the Play Store or Apple Store. It is compatible will all android and iOS devices.
Jellow Communicator is a friendly Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) solution for people learning to speak or with difficulty with speech and language. It uses images and icons to enable speech. The app is available in several languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Spanish, German and French.
The app uses a novel Emotional Language Protocol (ELP) to communicate with autistic children. The website showcases several products such as downloadable flashcards, a downloadable booklet version, an E-book, a desktop version, as well as in the form of an application compatible with tablets and mobiles. Jellow uses 1200 graphic icons and over 10,000 pre-made sentences to learn from. Parents can still customize the app suitable for their child's needs.
They even organise workshops for parents, teachers, therapists and pathologists to attend. Each workshop provides a detailed overview of solutions and provides the stakeholders with ideas to start integrating Jellow into their child’s life. Sagar Kumar is a speech pathologist who says that this app is an incredible development. He uses (and refers) the app with various other apps for his children.
Avaz is a repository of hundreds of images which, when clicked, say that word out aloud. It is a picture and text-based application for children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome. It aims to help them learn, articulate and communicate with the help of simple and practical guidance tools for parents and educators.
The app helps children form small sentences with the help of images. For example, if a child wants to say "I want an apple", the app has a format where it pronounces aloud "I want" and the child can point to "apple". One can modify the app according to a child's needs and level of learning.
The app was developed in India, collaborating with Vidya Sagar, Chennai and 25 schools along with 500 children, aiding people with speech difficulties to communicate most effectively and efficiently.
It has a powerful keyboard, uses picture symbols, and high-quality voice synthesis, to help users communicate and also develop language skills. Its user interface is designed to make speech therapy more effective, develop a users language, and improve their intent to communicate. Avaz is available in 6 regional languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi & Kannada. The app is iOS as well as Android compatible.
The above apps are good technological development in the area of autism.