Helping children with autism deal with daily activities (illustration)
The Singapore-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (SIIRD) has approved a grant of NIS 640,000 (about $165,000) for the development of a tablet application which will help autistic children deal with everyday tasks.
The joint project is being developed by the Center for Educational Technology (CET) on the Israeli side, and by Singaporean organization Dynamics Speech, which specializes in therapy for children with communication difficulties and in finding technological solutions for them.
The application, which is in its development stage and is expected to hit the market in about a year, is called VTAMIC (Visual Task Manager in a Calendar) and is designed to help children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) to deal with daily activities.
The application includes a calendar that can be broken into time units, in which the parent and child can write down the tasks of the following day, such as brushing teeth, going to school, visiting the doctor, etc.
The rich task library will also include pictures and videos. Parents will be able to take pictures of their children performing the tasks, add them to the library and place them on the calendar or go back and watch them any time.
The application also connects to a "cloud", so that teachers and parents can create timetables and follow the activities from their personal computers.
The initiative was launched after SIIRD got CET in touch with a company in Singapore. SIIRD helps with the development and will be entitled to royalties from the sold product. The Israelis will work on the graphic design and films, and the Singaporeans will be in charge of programming.
"Children with ASDs must learn each everyday task explicitly," says Ofra Razel, head of CET's Special Education Department. "The application allows the child to organize his or her activities and understand how each task should be performed in a simple, visual manner."
The past couple of years have seen a huge buzz over the use of iPads in helping disabled and autistic people. The simplicity, the intuitive interface, the sensitive touch screen and the relatively affordable price, which have made the device popular among millions of consumers in Israel and abroad, have made it popular among caretakers of people with disabilities as well.
There are many communication applications in the market today. They present symbols and drawings, and the child clicks on them when he or she wants something – for example, a glass of water when they are thirsty. Other apps include a speech engine which reads out to the child or their surroundings.
Despite the great interest, Razel says, researchers have yet to conduct serious studies on the iPad's contribution to people with special needs.
"In addition, there are many software – for example, for the study of Hebrew – that are simply unavailable on iPads, but only on computers," she stresses. CET is now working with special education classes in Rishon Lezion to examine how the technology affects study processes and how working with an iPad is different from working with a laptop, for instance.
"There are many stories about the greatness of the iPad, especially for people with autism," says Razel. "There is something about the immediacy of this device that fascinates them, but we would like to see what it really does."