Adults and children with autism have difficulties with behaviors that relate to communication, cognition and sensory processing. Not only do people with autism have a hard time finding a job, they have difficulties keeping them as well. Only 15% of adults in the United States struggling with ASD are working regularly paying jobs. According to new research however, people on the autism spectrum are now able to work more efficiently with the task management and organizational features on Apple’s iPod touch.
Tony Gentry, Ph.D., of the Department of Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, and lead author, explained: “Strategies that provide enlightened workplace supports are clearly needed in order to help people with ASD find useful work and perform successfully on the job. Adults with ASD often have valuable assets and strengths that are sought after in the workplace, such as logical and mathematical ability, exceptional computer skills, or photographic memory.”
Jeffrey, a daytime custodian at a fast-food restaurant, struggled with remembering the steps needed to retrieve and stock condiments or to clean the bathrooms and moving from task to task.
The therapist set reminder alarms on the iPod to cue him what to during his shifts in order for Jeffrey to be able to switch from task to task successfully. Step-by-step checklists were created using the Notes application so he would be able to efficiently finish each task.
Within one week Jeffrey showed improvement with help from the help of the reminders set by the therapist. Now, after a year, Jeffrey is an extremely reliable employee and continues to use the iPod touch to help him with daily reminders. Grace, a 60 yer old participant in this study, who has epilepsy, autism and mild cerebral palsy, uses the iPod to help her manage her commute to work. Before her alerts on the iPod touch, grace used to have anxiety about the bus missing her and this would cause her to walk out into on coming traffic.
She is also able to watch podcasts of shows and music which helps alleviate some of her stress while she is waiting for her bus. Grace’s iPod also contains a custom made video for her to watch how to wait for the bus safely, and what to do if the bus does not come. Grace also uses the iPod at work to help0 her stay on task. She is still using the iPod and working independent 6 months later.
Lily, who has downs syndrome, cannot read and uses a verbal application called VoCal that speaks word alerts to her to remind her when to clock in to work, take breaks and switch tasks. It also reminds her to charge her iPod.
The iPod and it’s applications have helped Lily improve at her job because it reduces the challenges she normally faced without it.
It is hard to make generalizations from these three cases alone because there are so many variables to consider such as workplace, personal characteristics and job duties. Dr. Gentry concluded: “This is an exciting time for anyone in the fields of education, physical rehabilitation, and vocational support, where we are seeing a long-awaited merging of consumer products and assistive technologies for all. Field-based research in real world environments is essential to help us determine how best to use these tools to help our clients live more rewarding lives.”