The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

22 November 2010

'Techie' education for children with autism

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus



It is really uplifting to see our local technology companies offering their wares and expertise in assisting our public school system. Companies giving computers and internet providers are allowing some of these public schools internet access. These schools are also now receiving computer instructional programs.


Autism Society Philippines saw the potential of technology and was able to acquire a technical grant of two full licenses of VizZle © — a visual learning software created through collaborations with the Monarch Center for Autism, and Children’s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School.


With its capability to add video and audio and share lessons across a web-based library, Vizzle has won numerous awards in the United States and in the World Wide Web.


ASP’s original plan stipulated that it will hand over the software to the Special Education Division of the Department of Education. “We wanted the public school system to embrace educational technology for special needs,” says Cristina Estampador, ASP’s techie-trustee and this week’s angel talker.


“Technology is here and available. There shouldn’t be excuses to delay this.”


* * * * *


Technology responds to the growing deficit of allied medical and SPED professionals in the country. During ocular of the SPED center at P. Gomez Elementary School, this Angel Talker discovered that the centers had outdated, non-functioning computers. Internet connection was also non-existent.


What is sad though is that the Special Education Division of the DepEd thought that this center had computers and was ‘tech-ready.’ But ASP was not daunted. “We don’t dwell on that mishap. You see a need, you fill a need,” says ASP executive director Ranil Sorongon. ASP thus sticks to its original plan.


SPED STUDENT TO TEACHER RATIO - 25:1

Amid the increase in public SPED centers in the last five years, there are still very few of them scattered all over the country. In most cases, these centers are over-populated and host a mix of disabilities: autism, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, deaf, speech/visually impaired, physically-challenged, etc. The mix of students is unimaginable, yet this is our reality.


The 231 public SPED centers have an alarming student-teacher ratio of 25:1. This figure is not ideal as it leaves no room for dedicated attention for each student’s unique needs. This undesirable figure leaves most teaching efforts ineffective and a grave misuse of time. This ratio also shows the lack of government and public initiatives to address the growing concerns of the special needs community.


It was revealed in private discussions that some of these centers have computer instruction, yet this is confined to ‘fast learners’ and for teaching computer skills only; such as word processing, spreadsheets, and some graphics design. They have not explored technology in using it for teaching other academic subjects and even behavioral modification. Technology is, therefore, not maximized.


TECHNOLOGY AS TEACHING TOOL

Technology allows easy implementation of differentiated learning across a class of unique learners. Teachers can thus teach a variety of subjects like behavior modification, life skills and even academics, across a variety of skills and levels, while being able to efficiently record and monitor the students’ progress. This allows proper assessment and profiling of the students’ skills.


Multimedia was enough to engage home school parent, Gina Bermudo. “They’re having fun with their lessons. I’m having fun, too.” Bermudo confessed she gets stressed out and frustrated if her boys, Nicolas and Alexander, both with autism, don’t meet their IEP (Individualized Educational Program) goals. “Ultimately, I feel ineffective as their teacher. But Educational Technology delivers me from that. If the lesson is meaningful and fun, learning happens. And that’s for both, the student and the teacher.”




Derek and Henry's photo

MULTI-SENSORIAL LEARNING

Technology is your best bet in to respond to the need for multi-sensorial learning. You can deliver the visuals, the auditory and the kinesthetic experience to your students. Digital books can automatically read the books for students. An engaging audio recording can read through highlighted words like a red bouncing ball would to an old sing-along video. Touch screens and motion sensors allow the children to kinesthetically respond to the programs.


There are mobile apps (applications) that teach handwriting. This Angel Talker’s own son uses a cursive handwriting game on a tablet and helps him practice his skills with a stylus. He thinks it’s a game. He’s having fun but more importantly, he’s more interested in writing now. It makes it easier for mother/teacher and son/student to expand to a writing curriculum now.


Social Skills Training Through Video Modeling

Lessons are presented in groups through an interactive white board, which is similar to the motion video games that are available in the market. Having this feature creates “joint focus.” It creates opportunities for students to be social and participate in group socialization activities.


Social skills classes are supported by graphical social stories and visually-supported learning games. Social stories and games can be delivered in groups through ACC software, videos, interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors.


Assistive Communication

Students with autism have been found to be visual learners. Visual supports take advantage of the generally stronger visual processing capabilities of such students. One would be hard pressed to find a speech-language pathologist who does not use visual schedules, timers, token boards and instruction boards.


Receptive and expressive communication is taught with topic boards and AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) pictures cards for the verbally-challenged.


Using video captured on flip cameras or instructional videos dropped into interactive lessons — is one of the exciting features of this software, “Static cues are difficult for my older students with lower-level cognitive skills to comprehend,” explained Kelly Yaworksi, a speech pathologist. “The videos provide more concrete examples of what is expected.”


CARLY AND STEPHEN

The most affected function in most neurological disabilities is communication and this is where technology levels the playing field for non-verbal or minimally verbal children. There have been several inspiring cases of non-verbal children finding their voice through technology. Most often, they have been found with profound intelligence- something that most people wouldn’t expect.


The general population has equated intelligence and potential with communication and language. Mostly viewed with the ability to speak; that vocalization is the ultimate expression of thought. Carly is one shining example that this isn’t so. Several therapists, teachers and parents have experienced looking into their children’s eyes bearing innate intelligence and often wondered how else can they express more and communicate more.


Carly Fleischman (a teenager with autism), who, in spite of her inability to talk, has found a platform through the use of computers. Carly has been diagnosed with severe autism. She displays over-the-top tantrums, uncontrollable stims (self-stimulatory behaviors), unconventional responses to situations and cannot speak a word. That was until during a therapy session, at the age of 11, she ran to a computer and typed the letters, H-U-R-T. Her therapist edged her to type some more and she typed, H-E-L-P. Unable to contain her pain, she threw up.


Because of this breakthrough, her therapies are now assisted laptops and speakers. Her inspiring story has been featured in 20/20 and on Larry King. She now chronicles her personal journey thru her blog at carlysvoice.com. She has also been accepted at a public high school in Canada.


Vizzle© Tech for Public SpEd Centers ASP is currently leading a project to acquire used laptops and computers to fill a computer lab for the SpEd Center in P. Gomez Elementary School, so that they can use VizZle ©.


Mrs. Leticia Corona, the school principal, welcomes this extension of assistance from ASP. “We need this. This can help our special needs students, as well as the teachers, in a very big way. We’re excited in learning a lot from this experience and become better teachers for these kids,” says Corona.


It is an opportunity to make a difference and create a ripple of excitement for educational technology, especially the special needs community. ASP is looking forward to creating a tsunami of hope for parents and kids out there.


If you have, or your company has used yet functional computers or laptops, and wish to give them a new lease on life, donate them to help special needs children and give these kids the hope they deserve. You may send your inquiries via email to cristina@autismsocietyph.org


*****


Two special education experts from Singapore will conduct ASP’s monthly seminar this Nov. 27: Ignatius Peh, and Bimal Rai on “Empowering the Special Child,” 9 a.m.-12 nn, and Rai on “Relationship Development Intervention,” 1:30-5pm. Venue is at the Asian Social Institute, Malate, Manila. Click here for more details.



Uploaded with permission
Source: Manila Bulletin
- 'Techie' education for children with autism
Photo Courtesy of Cristina Estampador.



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