The Influence of Technology on Non-Verbal Autistic Children

A recent study conducted by UCLA has discovered that the communication skills of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) improved significantly through individualized interventions that incorporated the use of technology, such as iPads or other tablets. This study, which took place over the course of three years, examined the different ways to improve the communication skills of non-verbal children, or kids with minimal verbal skills.

UCLA worked in conjunction with Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and found that the language and communication skills of many children on the spectrum improved significantly with the use of tailored therapy sessions that incorporated computer tablets.

The study initially incorporated over 60 children on the autism spectrum, between the ages of 5 and 8. Each of these children received individualized communication therapy over the course of six months, which focused on social communication gestures, spoken language, and skills used in playing or other types of social interaction. Half of the children in the study were randomly chosen to use computer tablets during their sessions, which incorporated speech-generating applications, using audio clips of words and corresponding visuals. A therapist would instruct the child to tap a picture of an object, which would play an audio clip of the corresponding word, allowing the child to learn more effectively and at their own pace.

Researchers immediately saw a difference between the children who utilized the tablets during therapy and the ones that only received communication intervention. The children who used the tablets were more likely to use language spontaneously and socially, demonstrating just how effective the technology was in their therapy sessions. UCLA Professor Connie Kasari, lead author of the study, states, “It was remarkable how well the tablet worked in providing access to the communication for these children.” She continues, “Children who received the behavioral intervention along with the tablet to support their communication attempts made much faster progress in learning to communicate, and especially in using spoken language.” Three months after the initial study, researchers conducted a follow-up visit with the children, and found that their improvement in communication lasted throughout those months.

One of the themes of the recent ICare4Autism International Autism Conference was the influence of technology in the education and therapy of individuals of all ages on the spectrum. With advances in technology taking place each day, it has become more prevalent to incorporate apps and programs in building various skills of an individual with autism. At the conference, several presentations were given that discussed the incredible influence of technology in the development of individuals of all ages with autism. Michele McKeone, Founder and CEO of Autism Expressed, led several workshops that demonstrated the effectiveness of using her digital program in helping teenagers gain the marketable skills they would need to advance in today’s world. The benefits of technology have been outstanding in many cases of individuals with ASD, as it has helped create new opportunities for those on the spectrum, as well as given many non-verbal children the ability to begin to express themselves.

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