November 1, 2007 Computer scientists have devised two tools to help people interact with autistic children. Videotaping interactions allows teachers or parents to replay situations and evaluate the cause of particularly good or bad behavior. Cataloging actual data, rather relying on memory or interpretation, proves to be a more accurate measure of a situation.
Autism affects one in every 165 children. For the parents and teachers of those boys and girls ... knowing what works and what doesn’t can be key to their development. Now, new technology is helping them help these kids.
From riding on dads back ... to bouncing around the kitchen. There's little down time in the Abowd home. Both of Gregory Abowd's sons have autism.
"With Aiden you have to work really hard to get him to say anything. With Blaise you have to stop him from what he wants to say, to get him to actually communicate with you," Abowd told Ivanhoe.
It’s his boys who gave this human computer interaction professor his next project at Georgia Tech.
"It was very disappointing for me to see how much people were relying on their memory to figure out what was going on," Abowd said.
CareLog allows parents and teachers to catch moments on tape.
"So what happens here there is a camera in the living room actually pointing down ... if something interesting happens ... I just press a button. When that behavior occurs ... sometime before and sometime after the incident is now saved to go over and take a look at," Abowd explained. This takes the memory out of the picture.
For example, often times when a child is trying to get the attention of his teacher it can get frustrating. When she doesn’t see him ... he may begin hitting himself. Now the teacher knows why.
"Someone can observe it and describe it to you, or you can see it," Abowd said.
Another tool called the Abaris also catches moments on tape. A teacher can compare video to her notes, taken down with a special pen and paper that automatically charts a child's progress on a computer. She may then realize a student is distracted. The teacher then can get more on his level to help him focus.
"They’d see themselves doing therapy and say oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize I was doing that," Julie Kientz, computing expert at Georgia Tech, told Ivanhoe.
Two ways technology is helping at home and in the classroom.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
BACKGROUND: Technologies such as CareLog and Abaris are particularly applicable to the monitoring, diagnosis, and intervention treatments of behavioral and learning disabilities in children, such as autism. Behavior and learning data are pieces of information that can be captured, measured and analyzed over time.
HOW IT WORKS: CareLog is a mobile application for recording behavioral data in informal settings. The child wears a small device, the Intel Personal Server, which holds a database with all of that child’s information and acts as a wireless application server for the CareLog application. Members of the caregiver network can record behavioral data about that child through any nearby device outfitted with Bluetooth, Java, and Web browsing capabilities. The application does not need to be installed, and does not rely on a major network, increasing the likelihood that a caregiver interacting with the child will actually be able to record information about that interaction.
Abaris is a fully functioning prototype application to support therapists who perform Discrete Trial Training therapy, a current best practice intervention for autistic children. It uses a digital pen and voice indexing technology that allows for easy indexing of trials into a video session. The format mimics the paper forms currently used by therapists. Captured sessions enable therapists to review those sessions, look for inaccuracies, and determine problem areas to show other therapists for evaluation.
ABOUT AUTISM: Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. There is no known cure, although therapies and behavioral interventions can remedy specific symptoms. Autism is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, resulting in impaired social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. For instance, autistic children can’t understand such social cues as tone of voice or facial expressions, and usually lack empathy. They may also engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking and twirling.
WHAT'’S THE CAUSE? Scientists aren’t sure what causes autism, but believe it is a combination of genetics and environment. A number of genes associated with autism have already been identified, and studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several regions of the brain. Autistic people may also have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. Some researchers believe that autism results form the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development, caused by defects in the genes that regulate brain growth and how neurons communicate with each other.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.