Autism is a complex neurological disorder that has its onset in the first few years of a child’s life. An American psychologist named Leo Kanner first described Autism in young ages (infancy and childhood) in 1943. Following his criteria for diagnosis, many attempts have followed, refining and rethinking Autism and its characteristics. Autism nowadays, in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), falls under the category of PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder).
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ADDM Network, 2012) the prevalence of autism in the United States was 1 in 150 in 2000, 1 in 88in 2008 and1 in 68 in 2010, following an increasing trend. A report in Camridgeshire (UK) in 1999 using the DSM-IV criteria reports a prevalence of 57 out of 10.000 children ages 5-1. Prevalence of autism is, in fact, difficult to track. The studies that have targeted autism over the years used different criteria for classification and diagnosis, depending on the year that they were performed, making accurate cross-year comparisons difficult to make. For example, the diagnostic characteristics that were used by Kanner were very limited and precise, but in later times these diagnostic criteria were broadened to include other characteristics and behaviors.
The areas that are most commonly affected by autism are those of communication, social interaction, and stereotypical behaviors (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). To help better understand the deficits and characteristics of a child with autism we provide a more detailed analysis of the behaviors and their characteristics in Table 2. A child that is diagnosed with ASD can display an array of these behaviors as well as variety on intensity and characteristics of that behavior.
There is no cure for the Autism Spectrum Disorder at the present time. Many behaviors improve with extensive treatment and age. There are several therapeutic approaches to ASD. Some of the most common ones include:
- Special Education (an educational model that focuses on the individual students’ needs and differences),
- Speech Therapy (a model in which the therapist assists with the development of speech and communication),
- Occupational Therapy (a therapeutic process in which the therapist assist with the physical and cognitive development),
- Music Therapy (Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program)
Typically parents would seek out one of these traditional interventions as soon as their child is diagnosed with ASD. Therapists that work in this field, employ among others, behavioral techniques such as those of:
- ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis): An intervention developed by Dr. Ivar Lovaas that focuses on positive reinforcement and repetitive assessment along with intense treatment in order to modify the behaviors of the child.
- PECCS (Picture Exchange Communication System): A program which was developed in order to assist with communication.
- TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children): is focused on developing an individualized plan after understanding the child and the family.
Although evidence-based practices and interventions in the treatment of ASD have increased, a new wave of technology-based interventions found its way in the therapy setting with the age of technology and digital information. Innovative interventions, such as the use of the Xbox, and Wii gaming platforms, tablets, computers and robots which have given a new perspective to therapy (Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004). These technologies are utilized by many therapists, which find ways to integrate them into their treatment plans. Those that implement the various types of technologies in their treatment find that they are a great tool to help them achieve their goals. There are always therapists that resist these technological innovations and restrict their treatment to classical approaches.
Autism and Technology
In the recent years, there is a growing interest in the area of technology and autism. Interventions utilizing mechanical prompts to stimulate sensory processes, videos, computer-based games, virtual reality, and robotics have been studied as aids in therapy of ASD (Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004). Researchers have attempted to study many aspects of technology in order to address their potential value in supporting their education. For example, Sherer et al (2001) used video modelling to increase the conversational skills of children with autism. They concluded that some children with autism could benefit from a video modelling treatment, sometimes as soon as after only a few therapy sessions. Video modelling has also been used to train children in ADL’s (Activities of Every Day Living), such as pointing to things they need and washing their hands (Plavnick, 2013). In promoting the independence of the child, iPod Touch has been used to train ASD children in how to structure their leisure time independently, and without any aid from an adult (Carlile, Reeve, Reeve, & Debar, 2013). Other studies have used computer programs to successfully provide an activity schedule for ASD children (Stromer, Kimball, Kinney, & Taylor, 2006). Moreover, establishing a relationship with children with ASD can be a frustrating process, even more so for family members. Taking this into consideration, Wright et. al. (2012) conducted a study in which they attempted to facilitate communication and strengthen relationships between the children and their grandparents utilizing a 3D modelling software as a common activity.
Carlile, K. A., Reeve, S. A., Reeve, K. F., & Debar, R. M. (2013). Using Activity Schedules on the iPod touch to Teach Leisure Skills to Children with Autism. EDUCATION AND TREATMENT OF CHILDREN, 36(2), 33–57.
Goldsmith, Tina R., and Linda A. LeBlanc. “Use of Technology in Interventions for Children with Autism.” Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention1.2 (2004): 166-178.
Plavnick, Joshua B. “A Practical Strategy for Teaching a Child With Autism to Attend to and Imitate a Portable Video Model.” Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities 37.4 (2013): 263-270.
Sherer, M., Pierce, K. L., Paredes, S., Kisacky, K. L., Ingersoll, B., & Schreibman, L. (2001). Enhancing Conversation Skills in Children with Autism Via Video Technology: Which Is Better, “Self” or “Other” as a Model? Behavior Modification, 25(1), 140–158.
Stromer, R., Kimball, J. W., Kinney, E. M., & Taylor, B. a. (2006). Activity Schedules, Computer Technology, and Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities,21(1), 14–24.
Wright, S. D., D’Astous, V., Wright, C. a, & Diener, M. L. (2012). Grandparents of grandchildren with autism spectrum disorders (ASD): strengthening relationships through technology activities. International journal of aging & human development, 75(2), 169–84.