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>.
A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reveals a distinction between uses of technology for autistics and typically developing children, suggesting further development of recreational technology tailored to develop social skills. Researchers Micah O. Mazurek and Colleen Wenstrup measure how children with autism spectrum disorder use technology in comparison to their typically developing siblings. Findings show that children with ASD spent 62% more time watching television and playing video games than in non-screen activities combined. Children with ASD showed more risk of “problematic video game use,”i spending on average about an hour more each day gaming then their typically developing siblings. However, siblings were found to spend more time using social media or socially interactive video games. Autistics often demonstrate obsessive, highly focused characteristics, which are beneficial for performance with video games. Games and tablet/phone apps for autism have been in vogue as of late and can be very useful in preparing autistics for careers. However, these programs do not take into account social stimulus. If autistics are steering clear of socially interactive video games, how do we incorporate social skills into the strategy of video games. Dr. Mazurek asserts the potential of utilizing video games for autistics saying, “Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away. However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual realty environments would translate into actual social interactions.”[i] What games do your kids prefer and how do you think these games might be altered to strengthen social skills?
[i] “Research Finds That Video Games Hold Both Risks and Rewards for Children with Autism.” Digital Trends. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/research-finds-that-video-games-hold-both-risks-and-rewards-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorders/>.
Mazurek, Micah O., and Colleen Wenstrup. “Television, Video Game and Social Media Use Among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2012): n. pag. Springer Link. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-012-1659-9>.