A recent study by veteran special needs children educator Lara Young at a leading US university, has highlighted the importance of understanding communication preferences of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Her research investigated the ways of teaching through alternative methods of communication to such children, who can’t use speech. It has led to a fresh approach to assess children’s preferences for communication that has the potential to improve treatment results.
A part of Lara’s study included looking at the preferences of a child to use a particular communication system, and measure their effect to develop their communication skills. Four children from Wisconsin and eight from Florida took part in Lara’s research, learning how to ask for toys or snacks and using three different alternatives to speech: pointing to and exchanging pictures, sign language, and using a speech generating software program, in her study. Lara used a learning mobile app for kids on her tab. She found that seven of the 12 children in her study preferred using speech-generative technology for communication. The learning mobile app for kids was a hit.
The special educator’s research also revealed that children fared better at learning and maintaining communication skills, if they used their preferred option to communicate.
Lara says that giving autistic children an opportunity to select their preferred method of communication may be viewed as encouraging self-determination. It may also bolster their progress when they are learning to communicate, she says.
Lara’s research has brought much cheer to advocates of mobile learning apps for kids. It’s exciting because the results have provided crucial evidence to demonstrate how effective a learning mobile app for kids can be to help communication. New technologies like smart phones and tabs, loaded with speech-generating software, have proved to be pathbreaking in this regard.
Lara, to ensure that all those who participated in the research continued their communication development after the study was complete, fundraised to buy a tab for one of the children in her research. Jeff Richardson. Lara describes Jeff as a bright and charismatic young boy who is extremely eager to communicate, but whose speech is largely illegible.
The tab proved to be Jeff’s preferred mode of communication. While teaching a range of basic communication skills, Lara worked with the child’s family to use the tab to take pictures of his friends, teachers, and neighbours. She programmed the learning mobile app for kids so that Jeff could touch the photos to create voice outputs with personalised settings for each person important to him.
This is really incredible, says Lara. The tab is a useful gift for Jeff who now uses it to express himself. Others are beginning to understand him for the first time.
Lara has been an active advocate for using technology for autistic and special children. It’s foolishness to turn away from technology, especially when it has opened up immense possibilities, she says. And there are results to prove the usefulness. She has urged tech companies to come out with more apps for special children.