A teenaged autistic child, Arun, turned violent in behaviour a few months back and his parents had to take him out of school. That’s when a relative from abroad gifted Arun an iPad that changed life for him. With the help of a stylus, Arun now draws and paints on the iPad, makes logos, sceneries and cartoon figures. Similarly, young Divya has mastered making 2D animations on Adobe Flash and graphics on CorelDraw and Photoshop. She went a step ahead and designed a badge for an IT event in Bangalore and earned her first money.
There are many autistic people who are gradually taking to technology to overcome hurdles, communicate better and lead life a little easy. Technological devices such as smart phones or computers help them open up and shed inhibitions, says Parasuram Ramamoorthi, working with autistic individuals. “Many have signed up on social media like Facebook and Whatsapp. They respond better to Design software as inherently they are artistic and creative,” he adds.
Prayas Lab, a Bangalore based firm working for the betterment of autistic people, in association with the Autism Society of India, has come up with autism-friendly lessons and apps that can be installed on phones and iPads. There are over 400 lessons under 12 categories that are designed for various purposes like inducing speech and responsiveness, boosting confidence and developing language skills.
“Technology is a non-threatening tool for autistic persons. Even a comment on a computer is positive. Moreover, technology is all about concrete visuals along with voice. Autistic people need visual examples,” says Uma Krishnan, an expert from Prayas Lab. “For instance we have a lesson that helps them do their daily work and basic needs. It contains clip-arts for simple activities such as drinking water or brushing the teeth,” she adds.
Awaaz and Bol are some of the apps that are designed to help language skills. The app is available in six languages accompanied by colourful pictures and a voice-over. “These can be used as an auditory prompt for autistic individuals. For example, if an autistic child needs water, he or she would rather click on the water icon than ask for it,” says Akila Vaidyanathan, a parent-cum-expert, who runs a learning centre for autistic children in Coimbatore. I-Katha is another app which is basically a social story, a play-cum-educative tool.
According to Chandrasekher, another expert in the field, many autistic people have shown tremendous improvement in skills after using technology. Five adults have been successfully employed as software testers in SAP lab, a Germany-based software company. “They have the skill of looking into fine errors. Autism is a special ability, where the person understands patterns, shapes, visuals and colours better. There are possibilities that they can develop their skills into career abilities with the help of technology,” he says.
“Technology has given lot of hope and confidence to both autistic people and their parents/families,” says Dr. Radhika, a parent. Her 10-year-old son after attending a workshop on technology usage is now responding faster than he did earlier. “He can now access YouTube, load songs and draw on the computer.” The lessons and apps are available for free (some apps are paid) and can be downloaded from www.learn4autism.com