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Inclusion through technology for autistic children

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... The predictability and controllability of computers have the potential to make them ideal learning environments for people on the autism spectrum, who typically experience discomfort at unexpected change and the uncertainty of face-to-face communication (Murray & Lawson, 2007). Technology can assist in the inclusion of even the most anxious of individuals because it can offer a predictable and controllable medium where various multi-sensory inputs of the real world can be reduced (Keay-Bright, 2008). ...
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This paper describes how researchers from diverse research disciplines are working together with design teams of children, carers and practitioners to create an exploratory multimodal environment for children. This learning environment, entitled ECHOES II, aims to be both an educational intervention and an environment through which we research children's learning. It is designed for typically developing (TD) children and children with Asperger's syndrome aged five to seven, with the aim of enabling the children to enhance their social interaction and communication skills. This paper explains the technology development process, which in order to create designs that are relevant to the individual user, is based on a deep relationship between theory, design and practice. We outline our current focus upon the inter-relationships between pedagogy, knowledge about child development, people and technology.
... Moreover, while it is increasingly recognised that it can be fruitful to encourage the interests of autistic children (Jones et al. 2008;Wittemeyer et al. 2011;Gunn and Delafield-Butt 2016), research is needed to explore how this could be aligned with communication support in schools. Furthermore, given the plethora of technological communication devices currently available (McNaughton and Light 2013), and the fact that most of the autistic children in my cohort were technically adept and highly motivated when using computers, more emphasis should be placed on these sorts of communicative supports in schools (Murray and Lawson 2007). These initiatives might be facilitated if teaching assistants, in particular, were better deployed (Sharples, Webster, and Blatchford 2015) and less pressured to carry out additional duties (Allan 2008), thus potentially creating space for others to learn from within-school examples of good practice. ...
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As a result of the association of autism with speech and language difficulties, autistic school children can be subject to interventions ostensibly intended to remedy these problems. However, my study, based in five mainstream primary schools in England, which incorporated the views and experiences of school staff (n = 36), autistic children (n = 10), their parents (n = 10) and a sample of autistic adults (n = 10), suggests that these inputs do not always provide the children with the help they require. Indeed, notwithstanding some examples of effective assistance, the more evident communication of the autistic children, in its various manifestations, might be ignored and their wishes denied, if deemed not to correspond with the expectations or intentions of the supporting adult. Furthermore, their communication was also found to intersect with the issue of noise in schools, a complex phenomenon which can be an exclusionary factor for autistic children. Indeed, if some forms of noise were tolerated in school, the sounds emanating from autistic children might be disdained, while the communicative value of their silence was not evidently recognised either. Therefore, whether speaking, making noises or remaining silent, autistic children can be deemed to be making the wrong kind of noise. Elucidated via empirical examples from my study, the implications for research and practice are discussed, providing alternative perspectives on how to support the communication of autistic children, leading to greater agency, well-being and educational inclusion on their part.
... The significance of the Reactive Colours© research has been the departure from the necessity to gain skill, but rather to enable an environment where individuals are free to express their interests, which can be shared with others. Each touch or keystroke immediately creates a visible response so that the current area of focus can be identified and comfortable interaction can occur around a shared interest (Murray and Lawson 2006). For the linguistically less able children, this provides a manageable, failure free, social climate for joint play, a feature often missed in most software applications. ...
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People on the autistic spectrum are characterised as having difficulties with social and communicative functioning. They are understood to have unusual sensory experiences, in any modality, which means that their perception of the world is alarmingly different from non-autistic people. These experiences create confusion and anxiety, and for many autistic individuals their lives are dominated by fear. A body of research exists, however, to suggest that computers present an ideal medium for reducing the confusing, multi-sensory distractions of the real world and that given the right approach, there is a strong possibility that some aspects of computation could prove relaxing and therapeutic. This paper will document the participatory design and development methods of the ReacTickles© software, which, by encouraging exploration and experimentation from a simple, structured interface, aims to promote relaxation, encourage spontaneous play, and support learning for children on the autistic spectrum. The paper will reveal how the entire design process from concept development through to the varied and flexible evaluation strategies, has been informed by the distinct needs and characteristics of the target population.
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So much has changed in our understanding of how autism impacts our lives. We still have a long way to go, however, until it becomes the norm that the principle of ‘nothing about me without me’ is upheld throughout autism research and autism practice. Autistic researchers and practitioners will play a central role in delivering this vision. Currently, the autistic community is mourning the passing of one such person, a true pioneer, Dr. Dinah Murray. It is fitting that we pay a tribute to her achievements and contributions, for these have enriched our lives and over-laid the autism landscape with understanding, acceptance, action and advocacy. I am not proposing that we change those opening paragraphs, just that we duplicate and adjust the text in the abstract as well. I think that reading this on the journal page would help people decide if they want to read the full letter, by giving them a bit more of a taste of the rest of the piece. I don’t think it matters that the text will be repeated in the main article - this is a common practice for things like letters to the editor and commentaries.
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