Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leveraging Technology to Aid Children with Autism (and other disabilities)

[Also posted on educatorslog.in]

Following from the success and lessons from their workshop in Dehradun where they used technology to help kids with autism, Dr. Arun Mehta and his colleagues are currently conducting a similar workshop in Bangalore (May 26-30, 2007). The participants include children of various ages with autism, their parents, special educators, volunteers (from IBM and some independent - like me).

I registered my interest (and shared some software ideas and links) with the group following a comment to this post here on educatorslog.in which announced the workshop and the googlegroup that had been set up to exchange emails, in the weeks leading up to the workshop among the various people interested in this event and initiative. I have had the pleasure, over the last couple of days to volunteer my time - attend some sessions and share my ideas on how some technologies such as Scratch (see my previous post here) could be used as a simple iconic, visual introduction to programming (to create games as well as explore shapes and other ideas around space and geometry).

Computers and other digital technologies with their multi-media affordances, have been known to serve as learning and communication aids for children with disabilities such as autism. Little has been tried out in India, though, and Dr. Arun Mehta and Vickram Crishna (of the Hawkings project and eLocuter fame) and their colleagues are probably the first in India to try to help parents and special educators become familiar with hardware and software that they can use with children with disabilities based on each child's specific needs and condition.

Among the software being discussed and shared at this workshop-

  • Natak - a role-playing and drama-making software by C-DAC
  • Jaws - software for the visually impaired (audio feedback for keyboard input, screen-reader for audio version of everything on the screen)
  • e-Locuter - computer "talks" for a non-verbal user and allows user to give computer inputs through one key. Read this 2004 article by Frederick Noronha.
  • Dasher - for keyboard-less typing - user can type using only mouse movements (without clicking)
  • Scratch - a fun, simple introduction to programming (see my previous post here)
  • Basic photography, image and sound manipulation - preparing powerpoint slide shows with images and sound
  • Edubuntu - a complete Linux-based operating system, (freely available with community based support) specially for children - packaged with tons of educational applications and games

Most or all of the software being shared and discussed is free and open source. Dr. Mehta is in fact planning to customize eLocuter with specific vocabulary lists of everyday words for all the children who have participated in this workshop!

To see technology being leveraged to help children with disabilities has been such a learning, and an eye-opener for me. Kudos to Dr. Arun Mehta and his collegues who are organizing the workshop - Vickram Crishna (of Net Radiophony), Dr. Veronica Mathias (Autism Society of India) and Dr. Nalini Menon (Spastics Society of Karnataka)!


Some related articles:

Article on the earlier Dehradun workshop
A write up on A for Autism... M for Mouse - a film on this initiative
Use of video modeling to help teach children with autism
A for Autism... M for Mouse

No comments: