PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD
ICT: CREATING WORKFORCE OF PERSONS WITH AUTISM
UNDER THE THEME- PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD
The theme, “Preparation for Adulthood” is one of THE PATHWAYS TO AN INCLUSIVE LIFE and my topic under this theme is ICT: CREATING A WORKFORCE OF PERSONS WITH AUTISM.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of alterations which appear between 12 and 14 months of age and is characterized by social interaction and communication problems and repetitive behaviour.
Before discussing the main topic, one needs to deliberate as what an adult requires for being inclusive or to be included on a regular scale of merit. Given below are some of the skills-
A. Being independent in ADLs (Activities of Daily Living).
B. Being an effective and judicious communicator.
C. Being empathetic and respectful.
D. Being socially adaptable.
E. Being able to educate self and earn a livelihood.
F. Being able to enjoy life.
G. Being able to understand family, friends and their importance.
H. Being able to understand relationships, marriage and concept of procreation.
I. Being able to organise and implement thoughts in to actions.
J. Being able to sail through the transitions of childhood into adolescence and then to adulthood with the help of family and friends.
K. Being able to keep a good health
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE COMPONENTS NEEDED TO HAVE
A FULFILLING ADULTHOOD
What could be the aspirations of a person with Autism to achieve the previously set goals? Or, on an indirect note, how can people with Autism helped to achieve the above said goals?
Therefore, one needs to further analyse these needs or aspirations-
- Needs to communicate
- Needs to learn to comprehend and read.
- Needs to know the numbers and their usages.
- Needs to know the activities which will help him in joining community.
- Needs to understand if he receives support for gaining higher education.
- Needs to identify a correct livelihood option.
At this point, we need to discuss the wide-ranging Role of ICT in Preparation for Adulthood and later the specific role in Creating a Workforce of Persons with Autism.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO ICT AND IT
ICT- Information, communication and Technology, covers all forms of computers, networks, information etc. that IT covers and it also has an extra focus on all forms of communication including telephony, mobiles, wireless networks, middleware (hardware and software), other enterprise software, audio visual systems that enable movement or manipulation of data. IT is a subset of ICT. IT is just about computers and the retrieval and storage of information. ICT is now more used because computers have kind of merged into telecommunications with Skype, email and instant messaging. We just use mobile phones and online video conferencing software.
Now to understand the role of ICT in enabling a fulfilling adulthood, we need to relate it to all the key elements.
Hence the first key component is-
COMMUNICATION & COMPREHENSION
COMMUNICATION AND AUTISM
Communication begins at birth; cry of a baby tells the mother that her child is in need of something. This cry evolves in to making sounds, syllables, words and then sentences. How this process is established, is known to all.
Now, when it is concerned with the persons with Autism, we know that we have a range of communicators; right from the non-verbal, gestural and verbal. We do have persons with Autism who do not speak but are excellent writers. Therefore, we see a variety of people with Autism with varying degrees of abilities of communication.
Communication being the first key word, one needs to work upon in making it effective and appropriate. The two major issues which come across in persons with Autism are the presence of echolalia and taking the literal meaning of a word, phrase or a sentence. They also seem to either talk to self or think aloud. All these affect the development of language.
ICT- ITS ROLE IN ENHANCING COMMUNICATION
It has been documented widely and has been witnessed at Prayas Lab- www.learn4autism.com that ICT has some powerful tools, equipment, devices and software which, if used judiciously and thoughtfully, are able to develop and enhance communication abilities in persons with Autism. A few examples of some apps are, Bol, iKatha, Tap to Talk, Talking Tom, AVAZ, NeuroHero, PECS, Go Talk and many more.
Communication is directly related to understanding and comprehension and latter is the key to many doors. Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read. To be able to accurately understand written material, one need to be capable to
- Decode what is read.
- Make connections between what is read and what is already known through past experience.
- Think deeply about what has been read.
For example- To understand what GREEN HOUSE EFFECT is, one can type the word in images section of Google and get the pictures; the latter can be discussed with an individual or a group. One can get a video on the same topic and discuss on various factors which cause the effect.
ICT gives an opportunity to do the above in a very methodical way as it offers audio, visuals and graphics and one can develop the same.
The second key component is-
Be it the preparation for the adulthood or livelihood in specific, it is important that a person with Autism is given enough and appropriate opportunities to receive education.
Education begins at home; it has many other components, when it comes to persons with Autism. These could be some therapeutic approaches supplemented by desk top activities which incorporate the prerequisites of 3Rs. It is followed by Primary, Secondary, Senior Secondary and Graduation.
In case of persons with Autism, it is noticed that the condition itself imposes certain challenges to the affected, that the process of learning gets delayed. These challenges are related to the sensitivity to the environmental stimuli which are exhibited by the person with Autism through Sensory Defensiveness; normally, these are called behaviours. In fact, if one can prevent these stimuli, none of the behaviours will occur. It is also documented that persons with Autism do not accept changes easily.
A careful observation of many such persons, some anecdotal and experiential learnings along with research through internet led me create a unique and innovative training programme for these persons. It is called “Reinforcing the Potentials of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders through iPads and Computers”. It is also known as Prayas- Daksh.
This training programme is a combination of Development of Concepts of learning and Skills related to computer operations.
Following note is the description of the premise of its development-
WHAT IS PRAYAS -DAKSH?
Prayas- Daksh- A Model of Best Practice.
It is a technology based educational and skill development training programme for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It is developed as the first product of project called Prayas of Autism Society of India in the year 2011 through evidence based approach.
It is an indigenous & innovative intervention. The intervention has a component of iPad intervention too. Prayas- Daksh- is available at www.learn4autism.com It is a free-OER-Open Educational Resource. It can be used for persons with Autism in the age range of 6-18 years.
Background of Necessity and Premise of work
One is aware that 1 in 68 kids have Autism. Autism has been seen very differently until some 5 -7 years back. Most of the focus was given to the exhibited behaviours without understanding the root cause of it. Prayas has shaped those thoughts and shifted paradigms.
Persons with Autism have an extraordinary ability to pay attention to details and that ability makes them good candidates for testing software. Some persons with Autism do exhibit strong associative memory, in the early years it is evident through the association to events and facts etc., this can be channelized in to training them in coding.
- We have been able to achieve the same by changing our methodology of training by using technology and equating it to the modalities of learnings of persons with Autism.
- Technology also offers a medium of visuals, graphics and sounds which is close to the real life and it provides an effective premise of learning to persons with Autism.
- Technology offers predictability to a person with Autism. These features reduce the anxiety in persons with Autism.
- It is a non-judgemental and non-threatening tool and thus helps in dealing with issues related to Sensory Defensiveness. For example- If a child with Autism is doing a mathematical operation and while he makes a mistake in performing that, a teacher or a parent may scold this child and during that communication, will raise voice, use abusive words, modulate the voice etc. It does not happen in case of technology.
- It follows an Inclusive and Process curriculum where many domains of learning are worked upon other than the 3Rs and it asks for continuity with consistency.
- The worksheets/lessons developed are the editable templates so that one can further individualise the educational plan.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE HERE?
- Concepts of cognition can be reinforced through generalisation by browsing.
- Finding Abilities in Disabilities- They are not rigid but orderly; schedule the tasks. They attend to details- teach testing software. They love order and sequencing; teach them content development. They do not lie- they bring the results to its best level. They repeat; use it for perfection.
- Identifying working modalities-. Our work involved in creating an environment which is conducive to persons with Autism with respect to the optimum level of the stimuli. These were sounds/noises, visuals, taste, smells, touch, balance and position in space.
- Our differentiators and deliveries-
- Simple tasks of digitization, data entry, formatting, pattern recognition and content development have been taught to pave the way to skill development.
- Prayas- Daksh has also developed tools related to assessment and evaluation of this training in a very simple way where special educational techniques are incorporated to get the effective results.
- Parent Empowerment had been the key element to let them know about the strength of their ward and also about the various avenues technology offers.
DOES IT ENTAIL AND ENABLE EMPLOYABILITY, HOW?
- Creates an ecosystem in education and training.
- Bridges the gaps- Prayas Daksh does connect to the learning through computers.
- Enables the efforts of families involved towards early preparation.
- Focuses on learning concepts, skill development and digital literacy concurrently.
WHAT DOES IT BRING ABOUT AS THE DESIRED OUTCOMES?
The training given through Prayas Daksh involves a logical consequence in to an occupation/vocation/employment which leads to gain self- reliance and independent livelihood over a period of time. It also helps in inclusion and less burden on the family.
It is clearly evident that this ICT enabled model of education and training is extremely effective for persons with Autism towards their education.
The third key component is-
SUPPORT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
The prerequisites to activity participation are communication, comprehension and education. ICT has enabled this extensively; we have several social media platforms which not only connect you to people but provide you large amount of information of your interest, some of these are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. If these apps are used meaningfully, one may feel inclusive.
Community participation can be done by writing blogs or being a part of some. Through the YouTube, one can make the videos of their skills of playing music, singing or art or any tutorial can be developed and all can be posted on the YouTube and monetise those. This way, it can be a livelihood option for some persons with Autism.
The fourth key component is-
SUPPORT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
In India, so far a very few persons with Autism have received admissions to gain higher education, it is observed that all these persons are either the borderline cases of Autism or have remain undiagnosed in the early years of life.
The stigma attached to Autism has also taken away many years of families, where they had to deal with extended families, medical and educational professionals and in general with the society. All these constitute the slow progress of a person with Autism along with denial of needed services.
As we discuss the support component for higher education, we must keep in mind that all other components which have been discussed above have to be met to achieve higher education.
To provide support to enable the higher education, the provision of holistic disability supports, pedagogical innovations1, inclusive design solutions are mandatory and these should be specific to each disability.
- The research2 supports the need to develop comprehensive supports for persons with Autism that extend beyond academic skills to include social skills, self-management, advocacy and personal development.
- Peer-mentoring and transition support appear to be effective forms of support but need to be integrated within institutional support structures and maintained across the whole academic pathway. The peer mentoring support required by a person with Autism is more intensive and of greater duration. An appropriately trained and supervised peer mentor for a person with Autism could provide support with physical and technological orientation, time management, way finding and navigation and also assume a liaison and advocacy role that would be additional to the support provided by disability services, academics and learning assistants.
- A key gap is the level of awareness of Autism by staff and peers and other students. There is a need to develop Autism specific-information, resources and programs to build awareness of the issues experienced by people with Autism, develop skills in supporting persons with Autism as staff and peers, and to foster a greater culture of inclusion.
- Higher education should also cater to the options of taking subjects of interests of a person with Autism.
- ICT based supports may include Web based applications, videos, smart phones, robots which are developed through AI- artificial intelligence etc.
To summarise this aspect of preparation for adulthood, there are many kinds of physical, technological, educational, emotional and environmental support exist in the system which can be adapted to the need of a person with Autism to achieve higher education; all we need is the compassion to the condition, awareness about the needed support and affordability and accessibility to these systems.
The fifth key component is-
ICT- CREATING WORKFORCE OF PERSONS WITH AUTISM
Livelihood or employment opportunities for persons with Autism are many. In the recent past, we have witnessed that persons with Autism do possess some extraordinary skills which are rarely seen in normal persons. Some of these skills of Autism seen in the eyes of a layman-
- Low social interactions
- Less emotional attachment – Not very open
- Low auditory skills – sometimes non-verbal
- No or low eye contact
- Highly visual in thought process
- Attention to detail
- Photographic memory
- Association to events, facts etc.
- Love to follow order or structure
- Learning in real life situation
- Repetition-use in bringing perfection
- Pattern recognition
Some of the traits mentioned above may sound like disabilities but these may be beneficial to an employer-
On analysis of the above, we find that technology in general can be a vibrant area of livelihood options. To make it more explicit, following are the ways one finds the equation between technology and Autism-
- It offers order in learning.
- It follows a medium of visuals, graphics and sounds
- It offers predictability.
- Applications can be used repeatedly to strengthen learning.
- It is a non-judgemental and non-threatening tool, helps in dealing with issues related to Sensory Defensiveness
Therefore, after understanding the traits, strengths of persons with Autism and how well one can equate these with technology, we need to identify the methods of training, areas of employment, match the skills to the job and retain the job.
In the method of training, we can use the Prayas-Daksh model which can be used at home or in an institution. Based on the ability, health and independent level of a person with Autism, one can choose, open, supported, sheltered of self-employment option.
Matching the job to the skills is a key element, to do this, a thorough assessment of the baseline skills is mandatory. For example, a young child with an extraordinary skill of completing a jigsaw puzzle in minutes compared to his normal peer and continues to excel the same in larger sets of puzzles should be trained in Testing Software.
Another one has an excellent photographic memory, associates events to some dates/people/places, has an eye for detail which can be seen through his drawings or finding auditory errors in spoken language, should be trained in Programming a software or Coding. It holds a lot of scope in developing mobile apps too.
One may be outstanding in visual portrayals and copying; should be trained in Digital Media.
The e- commerce options can be explored to sell the products. Developing a bar code can be taught as it possesses a pattern. Data Entry options are the easiest for these persons. One can opt for the typing of Ph. D thesis etc. by connecting to couple of universities and work from home.
A person with Autism, who has good literary skills, can develop good content and presentations.
Assembly of Hardware can also be a skill as it involves patters recognition and repetition.
Document management in hard and soft copies can be an important skill; this can be used in any setting as we are becoming a digital world. Hence, the avenues are many; all we need is to give right kind of training.
Now, to retain a job and progress further and make it in to a career, one needs the support of mentors, seniors and heads of the organisations, corporates and companies. It is important that the persons with Autism is well equipped and trained in Soft and Social Skills, therefore a simultaneous intervention of the same is needed. Internships offered by work places will enhance work place skills and job skills.
To conclude, our project “Prayas-Daksh” has been able to change the perspectives of parents, professionals, corporates and communities in last six years. The biggest impact was made through the project “Prayas-Daksh” when in the year 2013, corporate like SAP announced that one percent of their employees will be persons with Autism.