70 percent of autistic patients are either unemployed or underemployed. This employment gap inspired the theme for this year’s GTBank autism CSR event. The 9th Annual Autism Programme addressed the issues children with Autism encounter in vocational training. They also wanted to project the role of technology in autism; making life more productive for these special people. The event is a combination of consultations and a conference that brings world-class experts together.
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The event was brought together by the Orange Ribbon Initiative. They are the arm of the bank that focuses on providing support for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A statement from the company explains that “many children and adults living with Autism require strong and bespoke support structures to aid their transition through various stages of life.” Hence, the event for this year is themed: “Autism: Transition, Vocational Skills and the Role of Technology.”
Indeed, a major role is played by technology in autism, regarding the development of people living with the disorder. It makes life less difficult for them. The use of bespoke communication devices can help with their communication skills and eventual transition into society.
“Pathways To Success Via AAC.”
Paula Harrington during her session on the second day of the two-day conference gave a detailed presentation on the effectiveness of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC). Her session was titled “Pathways To Success Via AAC.” Harrington is the founder of CLASS, Inc., a company that “provides life-enhancing speech therapy services to children and adults with complex communication needs.”
She is an expert at using high-tech AAC to make the best quality of life possible for people living with autism. According to her, it is important to focus on helping the child communicate than just language. Harrington says, “when children feel lonely and don’t have those boundaries of what to do and what not to do, they are in a scary place.” Children with autism often try to send messages with every behavior. They withdraw to their safe space often to find solace.
An AAC tool that had to do with a switch was introduced by Harrington to one of her patients. The girl had inflicted pain on her parents and siblings because she was trying to communicate. His safe space was swinging and this was a great way for them to introduce the AAC tool to her. She learned to use the switch to communicate when she needed to use the swing. It said the word, “Go” once she hits it the switch to alert her mother to the command.
Communication Should Trump Language
Over the span of her life, more switches were introduced with varying colour to depict different commands like “Stop”, “Go”, and, “Yes”. After a while, the child was able to pick up on these words and identify them. Harrington emphasized the affordability of the switch by stating that it costs only $5 (NGN1,800). The switch can also run on battery on occasions that it cannot be plugged in. The tools were gradually used to introduce literacy to her and she was able to attend secondary school.
Eventually, as she grew older, communication boards were introduced for easy communication as she settled into the larger society. The success story ends with this young woman getting a job as a librarian. In a more recent development, she is looking to go out after work and interact more with the outside world. Tools in the iPad and iPhone were introduced to help her with social skills as the communication process continues to get more sophisticated. This is a success story of how amazing technology is.
Related Article: Watch GTBank’s “A Mother Knows” Short Film On Autism
The Technology Industry Needs Autistic Learners
A speech-language pathologist and tech expert, Jeannette Washington spoke on why the tech industry needs autistic learners. Washington gave a presentation titled: Breaking Barriers: Why the Tech Industry Needs More Autistic Learners. She explained that the skillsets needed to care for autistic people need to be more accessible. Apparently, only 120 research publications have been published on autism in Africa.
Washington says, “it is important to look at what the autistic child can do, not what he cannot do.” Children living with ASD need various levels of support. A level one support autism will need less support than a level four patient. Therefore, educators can help autistic children leave lasting fingerprints in the tech space.
A record 34% of students living with autism go to pursue STEM skills at the university level. This is so because it is easier for them to function in the tech space. Because people living with autism respond better to patterns, tech seems like the pathway. STEM usually has patterns and machines are way more predictable than humans and involve routines.
Technology Provides A Healthy Environment for Autistic People
Autistic people also want gainful reputable employment and this is something tech companies offer. Microsoft, Google, and IBM are only a few tech giant companies that leave room for the employment of autistic people. They also have the right support and environment that will make them thrive.
The nine-day event includes a two-day conference at the MUSON Centre, Onikan Lagos. It welcomes health care professions that came to give insightful presentations on July 30 – 31, 2019. A consultation program now follows at the Digital Village in Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos from August 1 – 6 between 9am and 5pm daily. It will have experts doing diagnosis and giving advice to parents, teachers, and caregivers of people living with ASD.