2006 Conference General Sessions

GUIDELINES TO SELECTING APPROPRIATE LITERACY EDUCATIONAL COMPUTER PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

Marian Tuedor
Middlesex University
Hendon Campus
The Burroughs
Hendon NW4 4BT UK
Email: m.tuedor@mdx.ac.uk

Introduction
This paper describes part of a research project that investigates if educational computer programs can be used to reinforce early reading skills in children with autism. One of the main tasks in the study is the identification of programs to be utilized as intervention medium in the study. Failing to identify a set of guidelines to help the process, a model and a set of guidelines were developed.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
The syndrome sometimes known as infantile autism or childhood autism or classic autism or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or simply autism, is a term used to describe a disorder that is characterized by a triad of impairments, these consist of communication problems, imagination problems and problems with socialization (Wing 1996).

The use of computer programs can help to support and promote learning in children with autism.
Computer technology fascinates autistic children and has been used to promote the acquisition of various facets of learning, communication and social skills (William et al 2002, Moore and Calvert 2000, Chen and Bernard-Opitz 1993, Heimann et al, 1993(a) & (b), 1995).

Although there are extensive studies enumerating the benefits of computer-based Pagel

Tuedor learning at promoting various aspects of early reading, learning and social skills, there are no guidelines to facilitate the selection of appropriate program for autistic children. Many of the studies to date discuss the programs utilized in each study without giving an indication of ways of selecting appropriate programs. These would assist professionals and parents or guardian of autistic children to select good computer
programs that will assist learning and the acquisition of early reading skills.

Methods
The methods employed in this study include interviews with professionals; a teacher and a
communication assistant of autistic children, and a Human Interaction expert (HcI). It also reviewed three evaluation method methods; Heuristic (Nielsen, 1994), simplex 2 model (Adams, 2005, Adams and Langdon 2003), the Rare Event Theory (REL) theory (Nelson and Tjus, 1997, Nelson et al, 2001). Other sources that were employed in the design of the model and set of guidelines were derived from literature which include, the Alliance for Technology Access (2000), Segers, Ve—hoven 2002, William et al 2002, Parents let’s unite for Kids (PLUK), 2000).

Results and discussion
This paper discusses the formation of a selection model and subsequently, a set of guidelines to facilitate the selection of appropriate educational programs that will reinforce learning and early reading skills in autistic children. The model (and guidelines) proposed involves the converging of various aspects of learning, taking into consideration the issues of literacy, learning, autism, learning disabilities, psychology and Human Computer Interaction (HcI). It is anticipated that this model and guidelines will serve as a model and a set of guides for future selection of educational computer programs that would be used to facilitate various aspects of learning and the articulation of early reading skills in children with autism.

The model is divided into five sections or sets of criteria which are subdivided into questions which the reviewer of any computer program needs to answer to determine if the program being considered meets the need of the targeted user/s.
Criterion 1 (Goal of using technology/ learning objectives)
Criterion 2 (Program content and usability)
Criterion 3 (skills of user/ learning style)
Criterion 4 (Psychological issues; memory and perception)
Criterion 5 (Communication issues and assistive technology)

Diagram 1: Program selection Model for Autism
in view that there were no pre-existing methods or techniques of evolving this model and set of guidelines, the author had to rely on borrowed methods from various subjects that were crucial to learning and autism. Various issues that surround the study range from the learning style of autism, the objectives of the proposed user/s of the technology and practical issues such as logistics, past experience and a repertoire of different options, these may come in to play when using technology to reinforce learning were deliberated upon in the development of this model. in order to reflect the learning needs of people with autism and to provide these individuals with the opportunity to benefit from computer technology.

Conclusion
This paper provides a foundation for more research into providing guidelines to assist professionals, parents and guardians of autistic children in the selection of appropriate computer program to reinforce learning. Further application of this model and set of guidelines is necessary to refine this model to include other areas of learning, education and other forms of learning disabilities. The significant of this paper is the development of a “made to measure” set of guiding principles that will serve as a first stop for researchers, professionals in autism and parents/guardians of autistic children wanting assistance in the selection of appropriate computer programs.

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