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Best communication for children with autistic disorders

January 21, 2014

Many children with autistic disorders fail to develop sufficient speech to enable them to communicate their needs, a University of Canterbury (UC) PhD student says.

Llyween Couper says this not only includes their needs for learning but also their social, emotional needs and interactions with their peers.

It is estimated that one in 100 children in New Zealand has autistic disorders, and a quarter of these children will not develop speech and are candidates for some form of augmentative alternative communication (AAC) mode.

``Recent developments in mobile technology which includes ipads, smart phones, tablets and various speech generating devices are providing tools for communication for everyone but especially for those who are nonverbal. They are available, portable, powerful and with networks that enable interaction,’’ Couper says.

This study, supervised by Dr Dean Sutherland and Dr Anne van Bysterveldt, replicates and expands on previous studies that investigated how quickly children with autism and limited communication skills learn to use manual signs, picture exchange and ipad based speech generating devices.

The children were given opportunities to indicate their preference for each option and most have indicated that their preference is speech generating devices such as ipads. Continuing research is exploring if the child's preference influences the speed and endurance of the communication choice.

It has been found from other studies that student preference can be sustained in the clinic or classroom but it is not known how or if using an AAC system can increase self- determination and participation in the playground, Couper says.

``We know that time in the playground is when many children with autism may feel isolated, anxious and vulnerable. This is a major concern for their parents and teachers.

``Very little research has investigated the playground experiences of children with autism despite the worldwide trend towards inclusion in mainstream schools. It is not known if speech generating devices can help to make their playground a more interactive, physical, social and emotional positive experience.

``My research followed three children who attended their local rural primary schools and will report on how these children spend time in their playgrounds. Playground observations, interviews and where possible visual feedback will describe the behaviours of the children who have limited play skills, communication difficulties and lack of social and emotional competence.

``It will also demonstrate the positive strategies using AAC systems which three schools, including their principals, teachers and teachers' aides developed to increase opportunities for the children's participation and inclusion in their schools' playgrounds.’’


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