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UC research project helping children with autism

UC research project helping children with autism

February 6, 2013

The University of Canterbury (UC) has launched a new research project which is helping children with autism learn communication skills using computer tablets.

UC senior lecturer Dr Dean Sutherland said the project is looking at improving communication skills for children with autism.

About 25 percent of children with autism and related developmental disabilities fail to develop sufficient speech to meet their communication needs.

Roughly one in 100 to 150 children each year are diagnosed with autism, which includes significant communication problems in the first one to two years of their life.

``Children with autism have difficulty communicating, understanding and developing social relations and have unusual behaviour patterns to various levels of severity,’’ Dr Sutherland said today.

``Based on international identification rates we could have between 30,000 to 45,000 children and adults in New Zealand with autism.

``There are three major types of alternative communication systems that have been taught to children with autism and other developmental disabilities. They are manual signs, picture exchange and speech-generating devices such as computer tablets.

``The aim of the project is to compare these systems to see which one is learnt the quickest and which one is most preferred by children.’’

Researchers are teaching children to use all three systems. At the same time, checks are being made on which method of communication each child prefers.

It is hoped that the results of the project will lead to children learning important new communication skills and improving their quality of life.

``We anticipate that incorporating children’s preference for different communication systems will enhance their performance in using alternative communication methods. We are also exploring whether the use of these alternative communications is actually helping children develop spoken communication skills,’’ Dr Sutherland said.

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