Kiwis creating technology to help autistic kids

About one in 100 to 150 children each year are diagnosed with autism.Photo / Thinkstock
About one in 100 to 150 children each year are diagnosed with autism.Photo / Thinkstock

Autistic children could be taught life-changing communication skills on high-tech computer tablets, New Zealand researchers say.

A University of Canterbury (UC) research project is looking at new ways to help children with autism develop their speech.

UC senior lecturer Dr Dean Sutherland wants to find out what alternative communication systems work best - manual signs, picture exchange or speech-generating devices, including tablets.

"The aim of the project is to compare these systems to see which one is learnt the quickest and which one is most preferred by children,'' he said.

Based on international identification rates, there could be between 30,000 to 45,000 children and adults in New Zealand with autism.

About 25 per cent of children with autism and related developmental disabilities fail to develop sufficient speech to meet their communication needs.

Roughly one in 100 to 150 children each year are diagnosed with autism, which includes significant communication problems in the first one to two years of their life.

"Children with autism have difficulty communicating, understanding and developing social relations and have unusual behaviour patterns to various levels of severity,'' Dr Sutherland said.

Researchers are teaching children to use all three alternative communication systems.

At the same time, checks are being made on which method of communication each child prefers.

It is hoped that the results of the project will lead to children learning important new communication skills and improving their quality of life.

"We anticipate that incorporating children's preference for different communication systems will enhance their performance in using alternative communication methods,'' Dr Sutherland said.

"We are also exploring whether the use of these alternative communications is actually helping children develop spoken communication skills.''


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