Hand-held computers aid communication, social skills for children with autism, research shows

by Sharon Aschaiek
Hand-held computers aid communication, social skills for children with autism, research shows

Mobile touch technology has the potential to considerably enhance how students with autism learn, communicate, engage with others and succeed at school.

That's the finding from new research by Professor Rhonda McEwen of the Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology at U of T Mississauga. In a two-year study involving 36 with autism at a Toronto , the use of off-the-shelf hand-held touch devices for learning led to statistically significant improvements in children's , , and motivation.

"The devices increased the students' level of interest in what was happening in the classroom. They are a good way to teach turn-taking and other kinds of social skills, and the children were highly motivated to engage with the device and with others," McEwen says. "The research showed that even children with have the ability to lead peers and engage in exercises instead of being passive agents in classroom."

The study began in 2010 with 12 mostly non-verbal students with autism of all ages at Beverley Public School, a primary school for children with intellectual and . Over six months, the children used two types of devices—the iPod Touch and iPad tablet—for a range of tasks, including identifying themselves to others and completing literacy and numeracy exercises.

McEwen investigated how using the devices affected the children's ability to identify two-dimensional objects on the screen and engage in expressive and receptive communication. Teachers collected the data and shared their observations with McEwen and her research assistant, a UTM psychology . The students were also videotaped.

Nine of the children (75 per cent) showed significant improvement in overall communication skills as well as in their motivation, attention span and ability to interact socially. The two-year study has been expanded to include 36 students with autism, with early results of the larger study showing similar findings.

"I'm glad this study was performed, because it's important for other people to realize that we have not fully tapped the ways in which we can improve both the receptive and expressive communication skills in folks not able to use words reliably in their communication with others," says Marg Spoelstra, executive director of Autism Ontario. "If these technologies can help in the classroom setting, that means good news for kids with autism and their learning, and instructors have the tools to be successful in educating them."

McEwen has recently launched a new study that examines the effects of using tablet computers on the cognitive development of young children without special needs. In collaboration with a post-doctoral fellow at U of T, she will be studying 120 students in junior kindergarten to Grade 2 at Clinton Street Junior Public School in Toronto who are using math applications on four different types of tablets.

Her research, she hopes, will inspire educators to consider ways to more effectively use technology in the classroom. "Curriculum integration is key. These technologies have the capacity to promote student-led and peer-based learning. Teachers who can creatively find ways to make them part of the lessons will be successful."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

APA: iPad use in classroom ups communication in ASD

Aug 01, 2013

(HealthDay)—Use of handheld touch devices in classrooms may be beneficial for enhancing communication skills among children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a study presented at the annual meeting ...

Children with delayed motor skills struggle more socially

Jul 01, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Studies have shown that children with autism often struggle socially and now new research suggests that a corresponding lack of motor skills – including catching and throwing – may further contribute ...

Recommended for you

A tool enhances social inclusion for people with autism

Oct 15, 2014

The University of Alicante has developed, together with centres in the UK, Spain and Bulgaria, a tool designed to assist people with autism spectrum disorders by adapting written documents into a format that ...

User comments