Autism is a complex disorder that can include one or more of a wide range of symptoms, including challenges with developing social skills, difficulties with communicating, and repetitive behaviors. Roughly 1 in 59 children in the United States falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, but until recently, it’s been extremely challenging to help people with autism lead normal lives.
A combination of better understanding autism and developing better technology is allowing researchers, parents, and medical professionals more chances to help those with autism engage in normal, healthy life.
New Technologies for Those on the Autism Spectrum
These are some of the most important technologies making life on the autism spectrum easier:
• Video analytics – For starters, there’s the possibility of capturing and analyzing videos. Through video recording systems designed for autism research, researchers can record and store high-definition video of autistic behaviors and circumstances. Thanks to a built-in searchable database and a watchful eye, researchers and other professionals can create detailed analyses of the root causes of these behaviors, come up with an action plan for how to improve them, and even monitor the subject’s progress throughout the following weeks and months.
• User interfaces – New technologies also give those with autism a way to engage with learning materials and with others in an easier medium. Tablets, laptops, and other devices are highly portable, and committing gestures like taps, swipes, and finger-based movements are more intuitive than typing. These devices are also specifically made to display visuals, both stagnant and interactive, which is beneficial, since most people with autism tend to be visual learners. Collectively, these features give those with autism the ability to learn more easily, and therefore to enjoy learning more, which can be helpful throughout their lifetime.
• Sound adjustments – Some people with autism have a specific sensitivity to auditory stimuli and may find it challenging to engage in an environment with normal levels of sound output. Several new technologies are now equipped with apps and services designed to adjust sound levels to more appropriate levels. It can control the sheer decibel output of the device, or rebalance noises to be more comfortable for the person using the device. Some apps can even provide an automatic alert when the sounds in a given environment are too loud or too distracting for an individual with ASD.
• Communication tools – Many apps have been developed specifically to help people with ASD communicate with others more effectively. One of the most common symptoms of ASD is an inability to communicate, or strong difficulty with certain aspects of linguistic communication. For example, they may rely on visuals or gesture-based communications, rather than forcing those with ASD to come up with the right words to express what they’re feeling or type in their responses. It may also gently guide a person with ASD to use more verbal forms of communication, making the acclimation process enjoyable enough for them to continue pursuing it.
• Automated reminders and notes – Those with ASD frequently struggle with staying organized and remembering things they have to do—especially as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. That’s why some new technologies focus on trying to organize daily life as much as possible, providing a convenient system for organization and features like automatic reminders, which can keep them on task. While many of the technological developments on this list are designed with children in mind, these can be used by older audiences.
• Virtual reality (VR) – Virtual reality (VR) can offer people on the autism spectrum a chance to engage in a realistic environment without the pressures or consequences of real life. For example, in one app designed to help people with autism feel more comfortable public speaking, there’s a simulated audience, which will gradually fade away unless directly viewed, encouraging the participant to make eye contact with virtual people throughout the room. VR can also be used to combat specific sources of anxiety, or phobias, that can make living with autism difficult.
Feedback and Further Development
Technology is always going to keep developing, but technologies designed to help autism require an ongoing cycle of feedback to continue improving indefinitely. That means carefully measuring and analyzing the effectiveness of these technologies, and using the data from those analyses to make those tools better—or invent new ones. With objective information and creative thinkers always working on new tech, it’s only a matter of time before our tools are perfected.