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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal » Technology
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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Autism and Online Role Playing Games

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008
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Games such as Second Life may provide a great opportunity for opening social doors for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  This virtual world allows users to create characters and interact socially with others in an online world.  In a recent article, CNN reports on how this can be beneficial.  Created by an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, Naughty Auties is a world where people with ASD can interact with one another in a more relaxed, less socially intimidating environment.  This sounds like a great solution for teaching social interaction and working on social skills.

This kind of solution for helping teens and adults with ASD may end up causing more harm than good.  In worlds such as Second Life, there are an unfortunate group of people called “griefers” whose sole purpose is to cause harm to others.  These people literally seek out vulnerable people in these online worlds and deliberately disrupt the world and cause harm, just because they can.  In worlds such as Second Life, there is no supervision, there are no limits, and anyone can get in and do whatever they want and say whatever they want.  This opens the doors for griefers and others will the wrong intentions.  For the ASD community, they are especially vulnerable due to their difficulties with understanding subtle social cues and often, language difficulties.

Although I support the idea of providing a virtual world for working on social skills and understanding, I am nervous about an open-ended world where people with disabilities are completely exposed and open to griefers.  Instead, I would like to see something similar that is not open to anyone wanting to join, and that operates in a more controlled space perhaps with computer players (like in the SIMS) or with invite-only people that have been screened.  The other issue to consider is how effective this kind of environment is for increasing skills, with no data collection or research on the effectiveness of doing this for someone with ASD, I would hesitate.  Research is clearly needed on this kind of program, particularly if it is described as an intervention or skill-building program.
In general, I think the idea is great, but people should be aware of the potential risks before jumping into a world with so many risks.

Research Opportunity: Seattle, Washington

Sunday, July 8th, 2007
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I am posting this opportunity on behalf of a doctoral student, Amy Gallagher, at Argosy University, please contact her directly with any questions: 

I am a Clinical Psychology Doctoral student (Psy.D.) at Argosy University in Seattle, WA conducting research in order to understand the experiences that parents have when they use computer technology with their autistic children.

I am conducting interviews with parents of autistic children (aged six to twelve) who have used computer technology with their children over a period of at least six months. The study will require your attendance for one audio taped interview lasting about 1 ½ to 2 hours. During the interview, you will be asked about your experiences using computer technology with your autistic child. The interview will take place in a convenient, confidential location such as a local library or university study room. There is no compensation for participation.

In order to qualify for the study, you must be a parent of an autistic child (aged six to twelve) who has used computer technology/software with your child for at least six months. Also, you must reside in the Seattle/Puget Sound area of Washington State.

If you are interested in participating, or would like further information, please contact me, Amy Gallagher, at amya365@aol.com or 607-329-7403 (cell phone). This study has been approved by the Argosy University-Seattle Institutional Review Board at Argosy University-Seattle, 2601-A Elliott Ave; Seattle, WA 98121.   

Interview with Krista Schultz, Registered Psychologist and Autism Expert

Monday, June 25th, 2007
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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Krista Schultz, who works in Alberta, Canada with children with autism.  She is an ABA and developmental specialist and a frequent user of TeachTown with her clients.  I love her philosophy for teaching children and her passion for making a difference in the autism community.  I also really enjoyed her responses regarding technology and her feedback on TeachTown.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! 

Krista Picture.JPGInterview with Krista
May 2, 2007

1) Please provide us with a brief background about your education and credentials:

I am originally from Northern Alberta, Canada and received my first degree (Bachelor of Education) from the University of Alberta.  During teaching and then school counseling, I worked through a Master of Science degree in Educational Psychology with a Specialization in Developmental Psychology.  Since that time I have become a Registered Psychologist in the Province of Alberta and have continued to work in educational systems as well as home environments supporting children with special needs.

2) When and why did you start working with children with autism?

To be honest, it was quite unintentional.  Behavior has always been my key interest and I had been working with severe behavior disorders in children and adolescents. I am an avid proponent of the position that although we live in very rural areas, we should be providing children with services and professionals to the best of our abilities.  I received a call from a colleague who had a referral for an adolescent with autism and she asked if I would consult.  It was then that I realized that the area of autism and the families in our communities were sadly being under represented.  At that time, autism was not widely recognized.  Due to many factors, media included, I find there to be far more interest from the general public on the area of autism and thankfully, more recognition from service providers and educators to broaden their own knowledge of the diagnosis.

3) What positions have you had in the past and where do you work now?

I have been a teacher of many subjects, gifted students, educable mentally handicapped and those with severe behavioral disabilities.  As a Psychologist, I have a private practice and contract to school divisions, multidisciplinary teams and family agencies to provide assessment, support and programming for children with a variety of needs including those with medical conditions, FASD, severe behavioral disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders and learning disabilities.  I am also a workshop facilitator on several subjects surrounding special needs children and learning. 

B & E.JPG4) What is the best part of your job?

Watching my clients successfully meet objectives and seeing the joy on the faces of parents.  AND, having clients whom other professionals cannot pick out of the classroom as the child who has the autism diagnosis!

5) What part of your job is most difficult?

Supporting families while waiting for services to be put in place.

6) What is your approach to using ABA? 

I believe that ABA incorporates many different teaching methods.  It is flexible and transitions between developmental stages as well as changes that a child presents during the course of their programming.  It is that flexibility - and the knowledge and openness to accept and embrace those times - that allows ABA programs to meet the needs of the individual child and address behavioral teaching.  Generalizing to natural settings and a comprehensive interventionist program that eventually fosters the fading of reinforcers is my key approach with my primary work being in school settings.

7) Other than ABA, what other treatment approaches do you incorporate into your practice?

My treatment practices in my work with autism have largely been guided by the science of ABA and the writings of Lovaas, Fenske, etc. 

8) Do you find that many children you work with benefit from using visual strategies?

Absolutely.  Given the difficulties with self regulation and auditory “overload”, many of the children I work with can build increased independent and functional skills from incorporating the visual modality.

at_computer.jpg9) How do you think that computers can help children with autism?

Computers are tools in our society.  Working with children with autism and using computers allows behavioral teaching and independence with skill building.  While the face to face, social component of interactions is certainly important, there are many aspects of teaching that can be completed by the use of computers.

10) Do you think computers can help parents, in what way?

Often the parents with whom I consult are eager, interested and motivated but they are not therapists or teachers.  They are not autism specialists or experts.  Having the technology and support of a good program that is effectively addressing the unique needs of their child(ren) with autism is empowering and motivating.  It also allows parents to be parents and not have the worry of appropriate programming or seeking out multidisciplinary teams to do, essentially, similar work.  Given our shortage of professionals in many areas and the factor of rural living, computers also “shrink” and sometimes eliminate barriers to effective programming.

11) How can computers help schools?

In our province, technology in schools is priority and for children with autism we find that while teachers want to offer similar experiences, they are often at a loss to make these times meaningful and functional.  In several situations this year, I have been exploring the use of TeachTown in a variety of settings in schools.  Again, non-expert facilitation and the preparation time that computers offer teaching professionals has been invaluable.

12) How do you use computers in your position and how can other clinicians benefit from technology?

I have been far more open to using technology and computers as tools for increasing functionality, independence and skillstreaming.  We are fortunate in this day and age that assistive technology devices and technology such as TeachTown has vastly reduced barriers that would have otherwise made appropriate and beneficial teaching very difficult or unrealistic.

13) What aspects of TeachTown: Basics are most helpful for you?teachtown cloud background1.JPG

The non-expert model has been very motivating for those unfamiliar with autism.  The ease of setting the program up and moving parents and para-professionals through the trials has been excellent.  As an educational psychologist working with Individual Program Plans, the data, ease of collection and simplicity of results (graphs, etc.) have provided solid evidence of progress for clients.  Teachers have been thrilled with the explanations of objectives for sessions as it has allowed more meaningful short and long term goals to be added into the child’s program plan.

14) If you were on the design team at TeachTown, what would you do next to improve or enhance TeachTown: Basics?

Expand the developmental levels to promote additional training for older children!

15) What future directions should TeachTown take for developing other products?

I would like to see TeachTown work with assistive technology professionals to address the needs of children with autism who may present with additional impairments such as hearing impairments, visual problems or severe fine motor skill deficits. 

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