Computers can help autistic children communicate

27 February 2013

Young children with autism, who do not speak, are able to communicate using tablet computers, a groundbreaking University of Canterbury study has discovered.

Young children with autism, who do not speak, are able to communicate using tablet computers, a ground-breaking University of Canterbury (UC) study has discovered.

Initial findings of a study of young children with autism have found they can request toys or snack food by using tablet computers.

This is some of the first research evidence using tablet computers to help engage and improve communication skills of children with autism.

"This is an exciting finding that provides evidence to support the use of these devices but we have some way to go to fully complete this study," UC senior lecturer Dr Dean Sutherland said.
 
"In this joint project with Wellington-based researchers we looked at supporting early communication skills of children from Wellington and Canterbury using tablet computers, pictures and sign language. Around 60 per cent of children in the study preferred to communicate with the computer tablets.
 
"This is a new finding but it is important to note not all children preferred a tablet computer. So we need to be mindful that some children will refer other modes of communication. However these initial findings clearly support the use of these devices with children who struggle to learn to speak," Dr Sutherland said.

Further research will explore if children learn more advanced communication skills more quickly using their preferred method of communication. They are also seeking to confirm if the new approach supported the development of speech and whether the skills children learned in the study can be easily transferred to when communicating with other people such as different teachers.

About 25 per cent 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.
Based on international identification rates, New Zealand could have between 30,000 to 45,000 children and adults in New Zealand with autism.

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

For further informationplease contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz

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