Friday, April 11, 2008

Autism Caught On Tape

Computer Scientists Use Technology To Help Children With Autism

Computer scientists have devised two tools to help people interact with autistic children. Videotaping interactions allows teachers or parents to replay situations and evaluate the cause of particularly good or bad behavior. Cataloging actual data, rather relying on memory or interpretation, proves to be a more accurate measure of a situation.

Autism affects one in every 165 children. For the parents and teachers of those boys and girls ... knowing what works and what doesn’t can be key to their development. Now, new technology is helping them help these kids.

From riding on dads back ... to bouncing around the kitchen. There's little down time in the Abowd home. Both of Gregory Abowd's sons have autism.

"With Aiden you have to work really hard to get him to say anything. With Blaise you have to stop him from what he wants to say, to get him to actually communicate with you," Abowd told Ivanhoe.

It’s his boys who gave this human computer interaction professor his next project at Georgia Tech.

"It was very disappointing for me to see how much people were relying on their memory to figure out what was going on," Abowd said.

CareLog allows parents and teachers to catch moments on tape.

"So what happens here there is a camera in the living room actually pointing down ... if something interesting happens ... I just press a button. When that behavior occurs ... sometime before and sometime after the incident is now saved to go over and take a look at," Abowd explained. This takes the memory out of the picture.

For example, often times when a child is trying to get the attention of his teacher it can get frustrating. When she doesn’t see him ... he may begin hitting himself. Now the teacher knows why.

"Someone can observe it and describe it to you, or you can see it," Abowd said.

Another tool called the Abaris also catches moments on tape. A teacher can compare video to her notes, taken down with a special pen and paper that automatically charts a child's progress on a computer. She may then realize a student is distracted. The teacher then can get more on his level to help him focus.

"They’d see themselves doing therapy and say oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize I was doing that," Julie Kientz, computing expert at Georgia Tech, told Ivanhoe.

Two ways technology is helping at home and in the classroom.

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