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BOOKS: “Technology Tools for Students with Autism”


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Technology Tools for students with autism

Technology focused on people with ASD has been on the market for a few decades, and has grown rapidly in the last few years with the appearance of smartphones and tablets.   However, the literature on what can be done today with so much technology and how to apply it is scarce.

Co-written by 48 authors, Technology Tools for Students with Autism sheds a bit of light on the subject, showing many examples of technology, criteria for selection, ideas for implementation, references, etc. The book covers topics such as the apps for iOS to virtual reality or the robots, without forgetting classic software for PC or video modeling.

Politics, UDL, inclusion, virtual reality, and robots
The first section deals with the policies —primarily in the U.S.— related to autism and the use of innovative technologies to improve the services for people with ASD. It continues with a chapter devoted to UDL (Universal Design for Learning). UDL defines a group of principles for the creation of a curriculum which provides learning opportunities to all individuals, adjusting them to the possibilities of each one, and it is a framework or focus which is defended in various parts of the book.

The second section then tackles the subject, and starts off by introducing the technology that helps towards the inclusion in ordinary schools, from communication apps (AAC) or graphical word processors to tools as common as Word or PowerPoint and a set of pictograms.  The next two chapters are much more advanced and focus on virtual reality and robots.

For the virtual reality field, the authors state that there has been a lot of noise and if the reader permits me a pun, “little reality”. This chapter lists the most prominent projects and the evidence obtained for a technology that, for persons with ASD, is still basically under research, but proves useful for the teaching of social skills thanks to its ability to simulate real scenes.
Regarding robots, the authors list the main robot projects linked to autism and provide ideas of how they are being applied. Students with autism usually pay a lot of attention to robots—more than to professors, according to a study— and robots have proven to be a good tool for learning social skills, of communication or motor skills. Nevertheless, we are again looking at a technology that isn’t widespread.

Applications section
Focusing now on more usual technologies, the third section is about language and communication. The main types of vocabulary and grammar learning applications are described first, and those for sentence-level semantics and pragmatics after. This section continues presenting apps for receptive language learning, the expressive communication ones —which in general other authors would identify with the acronym AAC— and organizers or visual planners. And it finishes with applications for the improvement of literary abilities, both reading and writing: speech therapy, creation of digital stories, reading comprehension, text-to-speech (TTS), handwriting, etc.

This is a section where there is a proliferation of applications —many for iOS— as well as the selection criteria and desirable characteristics for them. There is also some emphasis placed on using generic apps in creative ways with students with autism.

Emotions and social interaction
For teaching the recognition of emotions, the authors —Simon Baron-Cohen among them— defend in the fourth section the systematic teaching of empathy with LEGO, robots, videos, and software, listing those applications that have scientific evidence. Regarding social interaction, it is commented that various technologies can contribute: video modeling, robots, collaborative virtual environments, communication with computer mediation, and videogames.

This section finishes by talking about how technology can assist in interventions focused on social-emotional intelligence, self-awareness, stress management, personal style, and self-regulation. This “new” approach, centered more on quality of life, is accompanied by a social-emotional curriculum (Science of Me) that the authors have developed themselves. As a curious technology here, wearable devices that allow the measurement of stress levels are discussed.

Collecting data
The fifth section is dedicated to applications for data collection by family members and professionals or by the person with autism themself, such as the aid provided by some of these tools to help overcome certain situations once it has been detected that they are taking place (i.e., stress).

Implementation and training
The last two sections deal with several separate but interesting topics. First, some ideas —very conceptual— on how to implement the technology in the classroom and an entire chapter explaining how it was done in one school. Second, the use of technology for distance learning (online) for parents and professionals. The main programs used today are discussed here. And third, support in the transition from school to work, based on an app for iPad developed by the authors.

Assessment
As often happens in books that combine chapters written by different authors, the style and focus of the book is quite variable. As a whole, this writing, clearly directed at educational professionals and academics, offers a good review of many of the available technologies and provides many ideas to be used, such as the state of the art in areas like virtual reality and robotics.

The reader will get examples of applications and other technologies to work on learning each of the main areas (language, emotions, social interaction, etc.), and many inspirational ideas about education for people with autism in general. But of course with so many subjects and only 360 pages, the most pragmatic part on methods and implementation is limited.

So, it is a good book to know the state of the art, to obtain a global vision, and to draw inspiration. I recommend it to all autism professionals with interest in the technology.

-Francesc Sistach

Technology Tools for Students with Autism
Editors: Katharina I. Boser, Matthew S. Goodwin, Sarah C. Wayland
Publisher: Brookes Publishing
Year: 2013
Pages: 360
Language: Inglés
ISBN: 978-1-59857-262-9
Price: 39,95 $
URL: http://products.brookespublishing.com/Technology-Tools-for-Students-with-Autism-P701.aspx

 


REVIEW: SpeakColors


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SpeakColors logo

SpeakColors is much more than an app to learn colors, and provides exercises to learn diverse vocabulary, to work receptive and expressive language, and to practice various basic structures of sentences.

Combine colors

The main menu of SpeakColors allows you to get help and personalize the app. The main button leads you directly to the work screen.

SpeakColors 01

There are various elements in the work screen. In the center and very big, a color square and a photograph of a real object of that color. Touching each of these two elements we can hear an audio clip with the pronunciation of the corresponding word. And in the center, below, we have a button of a microphone which allows us to record, and then play, an audio clip at will.

SpeakColors 03

The idea is simple. The student sees combinations of colors and objects and can practice the receptive and expressive language.  The arrow buttons below allow you to see other objects of the same color, and the color buttons above allow you to change the color. SpeakColors allows working with seven basic colors: white, black, blue, green, red, yellow and orange.

But there’s even more. Sentences are not limited to a combination of color+object. We can choose between 13 phrase templates (19 in the Spanish version in order to effectively cover masculine and feminine names).  If the template has one or two additional words, these appear in boxes and they will in turn have associated audio clips. (Note: the images below belong to the English and the Spanish versions).
SpeakColors 11
SpeakColors 06
SpeakColors 12

This way, the student can practice simple model phrases, such as “I play with a …” or ” In my house, I have a….”.

A few buttons near a corner permit us to move to an object rapidly -by selecting it from the list- or to block some of the sentence, so you cannot change the structure of the sentence, the color and/or the object. From the main menu you can also choose if you want the the text of each color and object to appear below the corresponding images.

Customization

SpeakColors comes preloaded with a basic vocabulary and 200 photographs that allow over 1,000 phrases. But SpeakColors allows you to add new words to the vocabulary (including it’s text, image and audio clip), deciding in which phrase templates they can be used. You can do this in a configuration screen that is very similar to the work screen and easy to use. The same functionality allows you to change the preloaded audio clips and the photographs. When taking photographs, you can scale them -something typical- but also rotate them -less typical but useful also.

SpeakColors 09

Assessment

SpeakColors is a relatively simple app that you can control in a matter of minutes. Thanks to its ability to be customized, it can serve as a basis for working with a very large vocabulary set.

It is assumed that the student already knows at least the color-object associations (though perhaps hasn’t mastered them). SpeakColors lets them start to evolve into more complex phrases with verbs, but always incorporating the variable of color.

 

I would love the opportunity to work with only those colors first and then later without them, or to have a registry, but as always the list of possible extensions is very long. In the Spanish version (SpeakColors Spanish Pro), the audio clips have an American accent.

Anyway, SpeakColors can be a very useful app to practice expressive and receptive language, color associations and structures of simple phrases. And the free Lite version allows you to test it.

-Francesc Sistach


SpeakColors Español Pro 3.2 / SpeakColorsHD
Developer: RWH Technology
Languages: English, Spanish.
Features: To learn color-object associations and simple sentences with colors.
Versions: iPad.
Price: SpeakColorsHD: $3.99 / €3.59; SpeakColors Español Pro: $6.99 / €5.99; ‘Lite’ and free version