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Thinking differently

  • Published at 11:58 pm April 5th, 2019
Standing out
Standing out / BIGSTOCK

How technology can help children with autism

In order to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day last Tuesday, as a researcher, innovator, and passionate volunteer in promoting humanitarian technology-based activities, I wanted to share my experience and vision to support this year’s theme: “Assistive Technologies, Active Participation.” 

I, along with my colleague Prof Fattah from BUET, our students Tanvir, Imam, and Ashraf came up with a project named “Canvas-live” to emphasize on building such a platform, where one can teach efficiently children with autism in interactive, innovative, and simple ways, thereby creating a low-cost, user-friendly, virtual learning environment. 

We thank IEEE Bangladesh section and IEEE Asia Pacific Humanitarian technology Committee for supporting our initiative.

Children with autism are not a burden on our society, especially if they are brought under proper teaching processes. From recent research, it has been found that many children with autism think in pictures, not in languages. 

It seems that pictures are their first language, and words are their second. Pictures are easier for them to understand than words, because they can be visualized easily. 

So, teaching them through drawing could be one of the best ways. Through drawings, one can read what is inside them, their preferences, thoughts, feelings, and interests. 

Although different forms of teaching methodologies and tools are available all around the world, almost all of them are very expensive, and many of these tools are not very effective. 

There are several special schools and medical centres, but they are not up-to-date in the teaching process. 

A high tuition fee is also not bearable for most of the families. Nowadays, different types of electronic media have become very user-friendly and are used by the majority of the population, irrespective of economic and social status. 

Due to the rapid increase in the number of people using different modern electronic devices, various teaching tools utilizing them have been proposed by several researchers as alternative ways to solving these problems, maybe not fully, but partially. 

New research also shows that many children with autism are quite enthusiastic when it comes to new technologies. 

Apart from that, if the teaching process can be completed using a single electronic device, the tuition fee will decrease drastically. 

Hence, the demand for such teaching and learning tools for children with autism is increasing day by day with the expectation that these tools will not only attract users, but also ensure fast and effective learning. 

One of the major concerns of our project was to develop a new low-cost technology to assist this process. Since the project also offers online teaching and learning options, to spread this new technology, we have to spread the news to everyone who wants to collaborate, and also to the guardians of the children with autism. 

The educational instruments add to the huge cost of taking care of children with autism, and this can be quite difficult for most families, especially in developing countries.

On the other hand, in this era, it is hard to find any person who does not know how to operate computers. 

The way the project is developed, we hope to incorporate additional features in the future in order to improve content and application. 

To bring children with autism under this teaching facility, first of all, we need to familiarize them with the process. 

Arranging more campaigns in local schools for those with autism will immensely help in this regard, and will provide opportunities to develop awareness about the use of this environment among teachers and students.

Since autism can never be cured but only improved -- I encourage people in technology to consider contributing to developing and deploying teaching and learning methods which are easier, interesting, and cost effective. 

Celia Shahnaz is a Professor, EEE, BUET, Chair, IEEE Bangladesh section, and Communications Chair, IEEE SIGHT Steering Committee.

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