How Technology Exposure Benefits Children with Autism
by Phillip M
Research into the effect of technology on patients with autism has typically focused on the negative aspects of this relationship. In fact, some studies have even sought to prove that technology exposure contributes to the development of this condition, cautioning parents against allowing their young children to use technology on a regular basis. However, more recent research indicates that, regardless of whether it is a cause of this disorder, technology may also play an important role in the treatment of autism.
Technology as a Contributor to Autism
Researchers have attempted to link autism to a number of different factors, from genetic differences to anomalies in the gut. However, one of the possible contributors that has been explored most extensively is technology. Some researchers have sought to prove that technology exposure, such as time spent on the internet or with handheld devices, is a direct cause of autism. For example, a study published in the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine in 2007 proposed a link between the development of autism and exposure to wireless radiation.
Nonetheless, other scientists have questioned the validity of these supposed connections, citing deficiencies in the studies or suggesting that researchers aren’t drawing the right conclusions from their data. Furthermore, other studies have shown that technology may actually aid in the treatment of autism, allowing children to improve their social skills and live a more productive life.
Technology in the Treatment of Autism
Technology exposure may offer a number of benefits for people with autism. Some of the ways in which technology may be used to help children with autism include:
- Communication improvement. Many children with autism are unable to communicate their needs or desires verbally. Not only is this frustrating for the patient and his or her family, but it also puts the child at risk of undiscovered health problems or injuries, unmet physical or emotional needs and other issues. Certain types of technology designed for patients with autism provide autistic children with an alternative form of communication that they can use to express themselves and connect with their caregivers.
- Recognition of emotions. The inability to recognize and react to the emotions of others is a hallmark of autism for many children. Some new technologies can help autistic children with this issue. For example, researchers at Stanford University recently developed high-tech glasses that are capable of analyzing facial expressions, determine the most likely emotion and transmit this information to the wearer.
- Learning support. According to Indiana University Bloomington, children with autism are often visual thinkers and learners. Rather than communicating with words, these individuals prefer to communicate with pictures. As a result, they often experience difficulty when trying to learn in a typical classroom or one-on-one educational environment. Certain technologies, such as tablets and other mobile devices, can improve outcomes for autistic students by allowing them to learn in their own way.
- Assistance for patients with motor deficits. Some children with autism have motor skill deficits, making it difficult for them to master handwriting and other such skills. The use of technology can minimize frustration by making it possible for autistic children to write or draw.
- Avoidance of sensory disturbances in treatment or education. Autistic children with sound sensitivity can also benefit from the use of technology. Caregivers can download therapeutic or educational programs that feature only the appropriate sound frequencies and volumes, thus reducing symptoms related to loud or undesirable sounds.
Furthermore, because most technological devices used for children with autism are now small and portable and wireless, they can be used in virtually any location with ease.
Using Technology to Develop Better Treatment
In addition to treating autism directly, developments in technology may also aid researchers as they seek to understand the mechanisms behind different manifestations of autism. For example, Autism Speaks reports that researchers at New York’s Center for Discovery and Northeastern University recently developed a wearable technology that tracks a patient’s vital signs throughout the day. By analyzing the changes that occur directly before an autistic individual exhibits behavioral symptoms, researchers may be able to improve their understanding of the condition and develop more effective treatments.
Research into the role of technology with regard to autism is ongoing. Whether or not researchers ultimately find that technology exposure contributes to the development of autism, it seems clear that technology can be used to enhance the understanding of this disorder, support treatment and improve the quality of life for children living with this condition.