Computer-Based Learning Systems for People with Autism

Computer-Based Learning Systems for People with Autism

David Moore (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-183-2.ch005

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We start by outlining what we mean by “autism”. This is not easy, because the literature contains different views about what exactly autism is. However, a commonly, if not universally, held view of the nature of autism is that it involves a “triad of impairments” (Wing, 1996; Jordan, 1991a) or a triad of “differences” (Hardy et al, 2002). There is a social difference: someone with autism may find it hard to relate to, and empathise with, other people. Secondly, there is a communication difference: someone with autism may find it hard to understand and use verbal and non-verbal communication. The third aspect of the triad is more controversial. Until recently, it was seen by the UK’s National Autistic Society (NAS, 2005) as “Imagination (difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively)” Currently, however, it is defined by the NAS (2010a) as a “difficulty with social imagination”:

“Social imagination allows us to understand and predict other people's behaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our immediate daily routine. Difficulties with social imagination mean that people with autism find it hard to:

  • understand and interpret other people's thoughts, feelings and actions

  • predict what will happen next, or what could happen next

  • understand the concept of danger, for example that running on to a busy road poses a threat to them

  • engage in imaginative play and activities: children with autism may enjoy some imaginative play but prefer to act out the same scenes each time

  • prepare for change and plan for the future

  • cope in new or unfamiliar situations.

Difficulties with social imagination should not be confused with a lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative and may be, for example, accomplished artists, musicians or writers.”

Much current thinking is that this triad of differences is at least partly underpinned by a “theory of mind” difference (eg Baron-Cohen, 2001)—people with autism may have a difficulty in understanding mental states and in ascribing them to themselves or to others.

The goal of, and the challenge for, those caring for people with autism may be seen as enabling them to lead a “happy and satisfying life” (Carlton, 1993) and to achieve what Brown (1993) refers to as “full age appropriate autonomy”. Education is seen by many as key to achieving this goal (e.g. Aaron and Gittens, 1998; Oberleitner et al, 2006).

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