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New technology applications provide transitioning hope for autistic adults


The Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders presented a symposium on Autism, Transition and Technology to educate and raise awareness on those individuals transitioning with autism who still require support and services once they turn 21. The symposium held Wednesday, Nov. 2 in the Michael J. Adanti Student Center Theater was sponsored by AT&T.

The Center of Autism, which opened in February of 2010, is a resource for teachers and service providers for the state of Connecticut who work with individuals with autism to provide training and other resources from the age of 3 to 21. This includes Saturday seminars that take place once a month for two hours on a specific topic and each year does different events; this year it was the symposium. The center is a part of Southern’s masters program in special education with a concentration in autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities.

“One of the issues we keep hearing from parents and teachers is transition and how we need to know more about technology and decided to put those together and said let’s focus on technology during the transition process,” said Ruth Eren Ed. D, center director and associate professor of special education at Southern.

The symposium included presentations from keynote speaker Peter Gerhardt Ph.D, director of education, upper school, for the McCarton School in New York City and presenters Avi Glickman, M.Ed. Program and Megan Wilson MBA, MS.

“We are looking at adults and adolescents who have this disability and transitioning them into real life and giving them the opportunity to have friendships and relationships and do average things like go to the grocery store when they need to. Mostly our research goals are how do we achieve that and how do you make myself inconsequential to their lives?” said Gerhardt, who has spent 30 years of experience with adolescent and adult autism disorder.

The symposium discussed how transitioning autistic adults into the real world by technology has been done with the help of Apple products like the iPhone and iPad, which will replace an adult support to let the individual become more confident and independent.

“When you talk about using technology as a tool to facilitate independence the reason we have become so interested in its functionality is because once they turn 21 you have no access to any of the supports that were able to guide and drive their lives. Unless we can find creative exceptions to move the adult support many skills gained will be lost,” said Wilson, Apple Distinguished Education and an assistive technology specialist.

Applications for the iPhone and iPad make it easier for them to use instead of having to carry around a piece of paper or a bulky device with their daily activities recorded on it. The iPhone is small and lightweight, which makes it simple to use and keeps them looking average so a person may see them taking out their iPhone and not think they are autistic, said Eren.

Applications used are for nonverbal individuals called prloquo2go, a voice output system, and others that include leisure, accessibility, medical, organization, and daily living skills like shopping lists, chore pad, or voice reminders. All applications, said Eren, are inexpensive and easy to use.

“I’m drawn to the idea to use technology that is relatively inexpensive opposed to special education devices that cost tens of thousands of dollars,” said Glickman, program director at Preparing Adolescents for Adult Life in the Philadelphia area. “With a device that everyone has is cheaper and it helps them to fit in. It also gives them less things for them to carry around which creates less stress on them.”

By using a technical aspect, said Eren, individuals will not need someone to help them; however, they do need specific instructions on how to do things which began with a Bluetooth. Glickman’s presentation during the symposium showed how giving specific instructions through the ear of a Bluetooth was able to help autistic adults in transaction  to act independently but still have help. Since then, other technological advances like the iPhone have enabled process to advance and continue.

Technology however is not a magic wand, said Eren, every child is an individual and what works for some may not work for others. But the possibility is still there to give autistic individuals transitioning into the real world a chance to live without assistance.

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