April is Autism Awareness Month, and it’s an important cause to highlight. Recent statistics show that 1 in 68 children in the US and Canada are diagnosed with the disorder, a 30 percent increase over the most recent statistics. Autism is marked by communication and social skills issues, repetitive behaviors and unusual or very limited interests. However, symptoms vary remarkably from individual to individual. As Dr. Steven Shore once said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Technology has played a huge role assisting those with autism. Like many kids today, children with autism have taken to tablets and other mobile technologies like fish to water. In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who worked with a speech-generating app on a tablet during speech therapy were able to achieve “significant and rapid gains” in their language development. These children were able to learn language skills more easily who engaged in therapy alone, and had retained the skills when reviewed three months later.
GPS has also become a valuable tool in the autism world. Since many children and adults with autism, particularly those with fewer communication skills, have a tendency to wander or flee, tracking devices have become invaluable. Since kids love technology anyway, fun GPS watches not only entertain them, but provide a much easier way for parents and authorities to find them should they wander off. One innovative mother actually invented soft, easy-to-wear, GPS-enabled clothing for her son who wanders, and also struggles with sensory issues.
One new innovation in autism technology is Milo the Robot. Milo is a humanoid robot who helps kids with autism learn about social interactions. Milo has been a fantastic success so far: “All children with autism have problems with social interactions, but they’re really good at technology, and so Milo creates that bridge, where he is humanoid, has a human face, but is cartoonish so children in the spectrum are engaged with him,’ said Rollins who works at UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders. “We found that especially with the fluent children, they were engaged with Milo 87 percent of the time. We also looked at how much they were engaged with the therapist when she tried to talk to them, it was about three percent,” said Rollins.
There are other, simpler ways technology helps those with autism, many of whom have sensory integration issues that make bright lights, loud noises and other experiences intolerable for them. Dimmer switches, noise cancelling headphones, and other everyday technologies make life easier for children and adults with autism.
At Etratech, we are excited to see the positive effects technology can have on those with special needs, and we hope to have an even greater impact moving forward.