Tech improves lives of kids with autism, helps them learn

Parents and experts say more can be done in areas such as employment opportunities, therapy and integration

Earlier this year, various special education schools also announced technology-related curricula such as coding and digital skills lessons.
Earlier this year, various special education schools also announced technology-related curricula such as coding and digital skills lessons.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Technology has helped improve the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their caregivers, with parents fretting less when their children are out alone and the children learning with greater independence from online platforms.

Housewife Lim Sook Wei, 48, says she now has peace of mind when her son Hugh Lee, 12, travels on his own in a cab or bus, as a location app on their smartphones will tell her where he is and she can make a video call to him to confirm he is safe.

Hugh, on the other hand, uses his smartphone to get information swiftly on subjects that interest him.

A Primary 6 pupil at Pathlight School, he watches YouTube videos as an audio-visual guide when exercising, and uses apps for meditation and to track his health and fitness.

Online learning platforms at Pathlight have also made "self-directed learning so convenient for our child", Madam Lim said. Her son uses the platforms for revision and to do his homework independently.

For 31-year-old Sia Sin Wei, who has a milder form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, the Internet helps him keep up with his passion for animal conservation.

A science lab assistant at Pathlight, he regularly blogs for the animal conservation group he volunteers with in Singapore, using information he gets on the Net.

Earlier this year, various special education schools also announced technology-related curricula such as coding and digital skills lessons.

Online learning platforms at Pathlight School have also made "self-directed learning so convenient for our child", said housewife Lim Sook Wei, 48. Her son uses the platforms for revision and to do his homework independently.

While the benefits of technology are evident, more can be done to better the lives of those with autism, said parents and experts interviewed. These include providing more employment opportunities and therapy treatments as well as ensuring social integration.

Integration into society is an important step, said Madam Lim.

While he may struggle in a social setting, a child with autism "does not want to be excluded, but sometimes their sensory or neurological challenges inhibit them from being included", she added.

"The challenge is to educate our future generations to embrace individuals with autism and enable them to blend into society without prejudice or judgement," she said. "Compassion, kindness and love for others have to start from a young age for the ideal model of full inclusion."

Making it easier for them to get a job will also give more hope and confidence to families with ASD children, she added.

 
 
 

Another area for improvement is obtaining treatment for her son.

"Private services are expensive while public services have long waiting times," said Madam Lim.

Singapore, however, is moving in the right direction by providing specific curriculum and schools as well as social support for ASD individuals, said Dr Eyleen Goh, principal investigator at the National Neuroscience Institute and associate professor at the neuroscience and mental health faculty at Nanyang Technological University's medical school.

But it is "equally important to place more emphasis on funding and supporting research work in understanding autism and to develop strategies for diagnosis and find targets for treatments", she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Tech improves lives of kids with autism, helps them learn'. Subscribe