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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

 


BOOKS: “AAC Strategies for Individuals with Moderate to Severe Disabilities”


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AAC Strategies

In part, this book is the second edition of one with a very similar title published in 1991 by Dr. Reichle and several of his doctoral students. Two decades later, history repeats itself, this time with a much longer list of much more experienced coauthors.

In short, this book provides methods of implementing strategies from ACC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), always combining great academic rigor with a high level of practicality. Its audience is special education professionals and speech therapists who work with people with severe learning disabilities (including, but not limited to, autism).

The authors aren’t providing a unique method, but a combination of procedures, based on proven scientific and empirical evidence, that help practical implementation of the AAC in many ways.

The first chapter focuses on how small children in general become active communicators. The second chapter explains the main types of AAC and how to select the most appropriate one for each case. Hence, it talks about the use of real pictures, various types of pictograms, or communicating with gestures, providing rules and recommendations for choosing among these options, and answering questions about whether using these methods affect the development of verbal language.

Chapters 3 and 4 present the different systems of AAC, including non-electronic ones, and explain the main points of value in each AAC system. This book doesn’t focus solely on autism, so you will find many references here to systems based on scanning and light switches, for example.

The first part of the book, devoted to laying down the groundwork for intervention, ends with three chapters centered on learning strategies (different types of aid, reinforcement, etc.), on defining the strength of the intervention and educational context most suitable for each case, and on how to monitor student performance.

Functional communication
The second part of the book is dedicated to establishing functional communication. It begins by explaining how to show a student the relationship between written symbols and objects or events, including recommendations about how to generalize and about the physical properties of the symbols, making reference to the well-known PECS method. It continues on about how to establish functional communication that is effective for accessing objects or activities or for rejecting a suggestion, making an alternative one, or asking for a break or help.

Chapter 11 focuses on strategies for beginning, maintaining, and concluding a social interaction. The twelfth is about using AAC to strengthen oral communication with the disabled person so as to help them understand your communication. An example of this is the visual planning that is used to explain the steps to follow in order to complete a stated task. The final chapter explores AAC as a method to support people who are able to communicate orally but with difficulty.

Bridge between research and practice
The book’s structure really helps to build bridges between research and practice. Each chapter begins with an introduction, its intended objectives, and a list of key words. The chapter’s content follows, which includes many small sections with tips, vocabulary, and basic principles, or boxes labeled “What does the research say?” that summarizes studies or academic articles related to the topic being discussed, always presenting supportive scientific evidence. Also abundant are instructions about steps to take when applying a certain strategy, and case reviews that are examples of these strategies. Each chapter ends with a summary and an extensive bibliography.

So many resources can make it seem exhausting, but what it actually does is to present well-thought-out and proven methods, and a lot of information about how to apply them in practice. All of this, and the amount of content explained, makes this work a very valuable contribution to the field of AAC.

-Francesc Sistach

AAC Strategies for Individuals with Moderate to Severe Disabilities
Authors: Susan S. Johnston Ph.D., Joe Reichle Ph.D., Kathleen M. Feeley Ph.D., Emily A. Jones Ph.D.
Editorial: Brookes Publishing
Year: 2012
Pages: 408
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-59857-206-3
Price: $56.95 in USA / €59.56 or £49.50 in Europe
URL: http://products.brookespublishing.com/AAC-Strategies-for-Individuals-with-Moderate-to-Severe-Disabilities-P150.aspx

 


BOOKS: “Letters to Sam”


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“Each chapter of this book is a letter to Sam. Some tell stories of my life. Most speak of things I’ve learned. They all contain stories about what it means to be human.” Daniel Gottlieb

Daniel Gottlieb, american psychologist and journalist, became a quadriplegic after a car accident. Years later, when his grandson Samuel was diagnosed with severe autism, he decided to start a collection of letters with the hope that his grandson would be able to read them someday. This correspondence, which has ended up resulting in a bridge between two disabilities, talk about universal themes from the perspective of someone who has suffered an important disability and become life lessons.

A book plenty of intimacy and warmth, where a grandfather explains to his grandson the world: dealing with parents, school, love, disappointment, happiness, personal success or death. It is an optimistic lesson on how to face life, regardless of the circumstances presented to us. From personal reflections, family stories and concerns, the author made up word for word an encouraging message: life is worth living, overcome difficulties and move forward even when we believe there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Highly recommended for parents and families of people affected by this disorder due to the fact that it is written from the point of view of the family. At the same time is very useful as a starting point to reflect on some personal issues, addressing family situations or simply to enjoy an enriching reading.

Profits from the sale of this book will be donated, at the express wish of the author, to “Cure Autism Now” and other organizations committed to children’s health.

Excerpts from the book:

“When I’m lost in a dark tunnel, I want to be with people who love me enough to sit next to me in the dark, and not telling me how to get out.”

“Many adults suffer because we try to live the life we had in the past or the one we want. That day, you made me remember that life is much sweeter when we live in the present.”

-Rosa Aparicio

Cartas a Samuel
Author: Daniel Gottlieb
Publisher: Sterling Publishing
Year: 2006
Pages: 176
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4027-5345-9
Price: $12.95

 

BOOKS: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”


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Christopher lives with his father in Swindon, England. He knows the capitals of every country in the world but has never been just beyond the corner store. He can also explain the theory of relativity and recite the prime numbers up to 7,507, but has trouble relating to other human beings. One night, his life changes by the murder of a neighborhood dog. This will be the starting point for the great adventure that this teenager will live and will mark a before and after in the stable and secure life of our main character.

Christopher has many features that makes him different from others because of their perception of life. He is unable to recognize and understand facial expressions, apart from happiness and sadness, and has difficulty understanding metaphors and jokes. He likes concrete things, lists and facts, he is afraid of strangers and unfamiliar places, and his favorite dream is one in which all “normal” people (those who are not like him) are dead. Besides this, he is very sensitive to information and stimuli. For this reason he cries and reacts violently when people touch him and twists and growls to protect himself from excessive noise and information.

Mark Haddon has achieved a truly original story, funny and very interesting. The novel gives us the first person view of an adolescent with Asperger Syndrome. Through the story, the protagonist reveals his particular way of thinking, his ideas, his difficulties, his way of seeing and living life, his obsessions and needs. Written in a simple and enjoyable way, useful for parents, professionals and those interested in the subject.

Written with a kind of humor often hilarious, it is highly recommended for parents who, used to read dense theoretical manuals, can easily learn some very interesting, entertaining and practical aspects of the syndrome. Using a clear and simple description of the highlights of the syndrome, this novel is easy to understand for any reader and a useful resource for the dissemination and awareness of people with Asperger Syndrome, either in professional environments that are currently working with these people or for readers who are interested in understanding the characteristics of this disorder. In short, a window where you can look out and understand a little more of the cryptic Asperger world.

“And I know I can do that because I went to London by myself, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” Christopher

Opinions:

“A delightful and brilliant book. Very moving, very plausible and very funny”. Oliver Sacks

“A remarkable book. An impressive achievement and a rewarding read”. Time Out
“I have never read anything quite like Mark Haddon’s funny and agonizingly honest book, or encountered a narrator more vivid and memorable. I advice you to buy two copies; you won’t want to lend yours out”. Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

-Rosa Aparicio

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Author: Mark Haddon
Publisher: Vintage
Year: 2004
Pages: 280
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1400032716
Price: $10 aprox.