The cyber world of tech-enthusiasts is all-a-buzz over Bellevue College’s new use of school-wide learning management software to aid autistic students with collaboration skills. Bellevue College in Washington is home to Autism Spectrum Navigators, a support and skill development program for students with ASD. Throughout this past academic year, the Navigators have employed a new resource for aiding autistic students in collaboration with small academic groups. The software, Canvas, has a discussion board feature through which teachers and students can share assignments, grades, and interactive materials including audio and video. The content is manageable from smartphone and tablet interfaces as well, enabling continual access to the course dialogue and mediating the social component of learning. Sara Gardner, the manager of the Navigator program, asserts that since appropriating the Canvas discussion board feature for autistic assistance, the program has seen a marked increase in confidence and communication among students. Gardner advocates for the use mediating social tools for autistics. On the spectrum herself, Gardner telecommutes for part of each week to lessen exposure to social interactions that can be disrupting and strenuous for individuals with ASD.
Of the members of Navigators, students who utilized the Canvas program have completed more courses than those not involved in the program and have improved their grades overall. Brain Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure (the company responsible for Canvas), has a six-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum. While Whitmer did not intend for the program to be utilized particularly for autistic students, he comments on the success of Bellevue College’s adaptation saying, “It’s great to hear about how Canvas can help with autism, and that’s something I’d like to continue to help with in the future.” [i]
[i] Hambien, Matt. “Bellevue College Looks to Online Software to Help Autistic Students Collaborate.” Computer World. N.p., 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238727/Bellevue_College_looks_to_online_software_to_help_autistic_students_collaborate?taxonomyId=18&pageNumber=2>.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that parents of children with ASDs tend to report concerns regarding vision and hearing as well as social and motor skills within the child’s first year and studies show that ASD diagnoses at the age of 2 can be reliable and valid. The theme of ASD treatment today is early intervention, but navigating available, medical resources can take many months. The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, in collaboration with Behavior Imaging Solutions and the Georgia Institute of Technology, is developing a Smartphone application that streamlines communication between specialists and parents, expediting diagnostics. The application, to be called the Naturalistic Observation Diagnostic Assessment, will allow parents to upload videos of their children’s behavior for professional assessment. If successful, this application could enable earlier treatment and therapy, and increase diagnoses in rural areas where parents have less access to specialists. The program is not intended for ongoing treatment, but is a diagnostic tool intended to accelerate intervention. The National Institutes of Health is funding the app development with a $2.2 million grant. Testing will begin this summer and is intended to be available by 2014. According to the CDC, the average age of diagnosis is currently 6. Studies show the significance of early intervention for the development of communicative abilities and motor skills, but physicians are often hesitant to diagnose a disorder that manifests itself behaviorally. This app would allow physicians prolonged insight into the behavior of the child, rendering confident, early diagnoses. Vice President and Director of Research at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, Christopher Smith, asserts that diagnoses should occur before a child turns two to allow for therapy and specialized education in early development. The cost of these app-based diagnoses has not yet been defined.
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Scott, Eugene. “App Aims for Faster Autism Diagnosis.” USA Today. Gannett, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/13/autism-application-faster-diagnosis/2080247/>.