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How can we improve support for autistic people?

Ahead of World's Autism Day tomorrow, in this post Mark Brosnan from the University of Bath discusses some of the challenges and solutions for parents and carers of autistic people, and shares more about the course Smart-ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources.

Ahead of World’s Autism Day tomorrow, in this post Mark Brosnan from the University of Bath discusses some of the challenges and solutions for parents and carers of autistic people, and shares more about the course Smart-ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources.

Autism FutureLearn

Over the last few decades awareness of autism has grown. Last week was World Autism Awareness Week, which marked the start of World Autism Month (including Autism Speaks’ Light it up blue campaign) and even Sesame Street is getting involved in raising awareness of autism through its new character, Julia.

Awareness campaigns are excellent, but more needs to be done to provide the practical steps to help individuals, families and us as a society respond to the needs of autistic people. Aside from the challenge autism presents for individuals and families, health economists have estimated the cost of supporting people with autism to be £32 billion per year in the UK and $175 billion per year in the USA. This is greater than the costs of cancer, stroke and heart disease combined.

This is where our course can help – it aims to provide practical suggestions and suggestions to help people living with autism. It’s been designed with international partners through our new Centre for Applied Autism Research at the University of Bath to highlight how technology can best be used, specifically mobile apps, including the free SMART-ASD app – that helps assess the needs of autistic children and identifies the most suitable technology to assist individuals’ requirements.

What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by atypical social communication and behavioural inflexibility. Autistic people can have difficulties socially interacting with other people and have a preference for predictability, routine and sameness. Around 1% of the population receive a diagnosis of ASD, the majority of whom are male.

How can technology support autistic people?

Digital technologies provide an environment within which autistic people can thrive. Computers are (mostly) highly predictable and can provide employment opportunities that depend upon routine and sameness, for which autistic people can be ideally suited. Computers can also mediate social communication, providing platforms to socially interact with other people without being face-to-face. It has been argued that autistic people can have an affinity for using digital technology.

Digital technologies are being developed to build upon a digital affinity to provide therapeutic benefit for autistic people. For example, the Autism Speaks web site lists hundreds upon hundreds of apps that are available to support autistic people. It seems unlikely that one app would support every autistic person, so the issue becomes how to decide what individual technology will best support the autistic individual.

The autistic individual may have movement difficulties that make precise interaction with a touch screen challenging, or they may have intellectual disabilities that would make reading instructions problematic. Many autistic people have associated conditions such as intellectual disability, so the wide range of digital technology available should be able to address the wide range of autistic people’s wants and needs.

But there are two key issues – how do you identify the most appropriate technology for each individual and what is the evidence that the technology provides any therapeutic or learning benefit? Using robust evidence (evidence-based practice) to inform your decisions requires a level of evidence that does not exist for the vast majority of digital technology.

The first step is to better understand what information is available. Understanding what autism is, the impact of associated conditions such as intellectual disability, and what technologies and accessories are potentially available is essential. An obvious example might be touchscreen technologies and thinking about screen protectors and cases if a tablet is likely to be dropped or thrown.

On the course we’ll consider issues like these and more, working together to help improve the lives of those with autism.

Join Smart-ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources now.

Category Healthcare

Comments (6)


  • Linda

    I have several people in my family with what used to be called aspergers now autistic spectrum disorder One of the things that stands out straight away is that no matter how good the technology is if it isn’t put into their routine it won’t be used as they will forget about it or do other things they see as more important
    I must also say I agree with Adella my family members have autism they are not autism In fact when they were children we called their differences their super powers because their ability to focus or observe were much better than us “normal” folk

  • mary

    Just picking non touch screen access A person with autism mayn’t wish to identify as or with those who had-ve vision difficulties though links are apparently strong but blind access to touch screen is enabled though voice s as well as directional swipe and number of fingers employed as for everyone. So voice/speech access should not be defined as only a non visual approach, and can be practicable in various aspects of autism and ASD.

  • Adella

    Great to see an article raising awareness of autism; my only small criticism is that I would prefer the article to use ‘people with autism’ rather than ‘autistic people’ – a gentle reminder that anyone with autism is a person first and foremost.

    • Marie

      Adella, you took the words right out of my mouth.

      • Karen

        Marie definitely well said. I have two grandchildren one is autistic and one who has ASD, so much research needs to be done. They are a person first then everything comes after that.x

    • Rachel

      Many autistic people – I’m one – prefer to be described as such, and that’s probably why the article uses this form. It’s so bound up with who we are and our identity that many of us don’t feel it can be separated.