AS FOR observance of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, as a researcher, innovator and passionate volunteer in promoting humanitarian technology-based activities, I felt that I should share my experience and vision to support this year’s theme ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation.’ I, along with my colleague Professor Fattah from BUET and our students, in recent years have come up with a project named ‘Canvas-live’ to emphasise building such a platform where one can teach efficiently the children with autism in an interactive, innovative and much simpler way, thereby creating a low-cost, user-friendly virtual learning environment. The IEEE Bangladesh section and the IEEE Asia Pacific Humanitarian Technology Committee supported our initiative.
Children with autism are no burden on society if they are brought under proper teaching process. Recent research finds that many children with autism think in picture, not in language. Their thoughts are like pictures running in their imagination. It seems that pictures are their first language and words the second language. Pictures are easier for them to understand than words because pictures can be easily visualised. So, teaching them through drawing could be one of the best ways.
Through drawing, one can read what is inside them, their liking, thoughts, feelings, and interests. Although different forms of teaching methodology and tools are available all around the world, almost all of them are expensive and many of the tools are not very effective. There are several schools and medical centres, dealing with autism, but they are not up to date with the teaching process. A high tuition fee is also not bearable for most of the families. Now a days, different types of electronic media are very user-friendly and used by majority of the population, irrespective of economic and social status.
Because of the rapid increase in the number of people using different modern electronic devices such as computers, the internet, tablet PCs and mobiles, various teaching tools using the electronic media are proposed by several researchers as alternative ways to solve these problems, perhaps not fully but partially. New research shows that many children with autism are much enthusiastic about computer and new technologies. Apart from that, if teaching process can be completed using a single electronic device, the tuition fee will decrease drastically.
Hence, the demand for teaching and learning tools for children with autism, and fully functional via electronic devices, is increasing day by day with the expectations that the tools will not only attract users but also ensure fast and effective learning. Many researchers have showed success in teaching children with autism via various types of technology. One of the major concerns of our project was to develop a low-cost technology to assist this process. Since the project also offers online teaching and learning option, to spread this technique, we have to spread the news to everyone who want to collaborate and also to the guardians of the children with autism.
The educational instruments which require a huge cost for children with autism is really a hard nut to crack for most of the family of developing country. On the other hand, in this era, it is hard to find any person who does not know about computer. As we are going to teach through computer, it seems that a computer can turn into a school for children with autism. The way the project is developed, we hope to incorporate additional features in future in view of improving content and application. To bring children with autism under this teaching facility, first of all, we need to familiarise them with this teaching facility.
Arranging more campaigns in local schools that deal with autism will immensely help in this regard and will provide opportunity for the development of awareness of the use of this environment among teachers and students. Since autism can never be cured but can be improved, I encourage people in technology to consider contributing to developing and deploying teaching and learning methods which are easier, interesting and cost-effective.
Celia Shahnaz is an EEE professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and chair of the IEEE Bangladesh section and communications chair, IEEE SIGHT steering committee.
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