Educating and Motivating Students on the Autism Spectrum

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Read this article, and you will learn something new and useful.
Hopefully, the previous sentence activated your nucleus accumbens, a structure located deep in your brain that plays a key role in reward and learning mechanisms. Whether you’re playing a videogame, listening to music, eating chocolate, or learning something new and interesting, the nucleus accumbens supports all of these experiences. Learning and engagement are, in fact, intricately woven together by specific regions in the brain. Yet the relationship between learning and engagement often gets short shrift — as if fun can dilute the content of an education. Current research is showing us, however, that learning and entertainment go hand in hand: in fact, edu-tainment may be the future of teaching and learning.

Ed•u•tain•ment (noun /ˌɛʤəˈteɪnmənt/) is content with a high degree of both educational and entertainment value that is designed to teach something — using games, computers, films, or other media

We know that engagement and interest in academic tasks create positive educational experiences for children, which can spark curiosity and fascination for learning. And for children with autism, motivation and engagement are essential. However, many school-aged children — kids with ASD included — are often given academic tasks that can be overly challenging and mostly unengaging. Research suggests that mundane, uninteresting tasks can lead to behaviors, which can impede or interfere with learning. On the other hand, recent research has shown that having fun can improve learning: even abstract, complex information.

Currently, educators have effective strategies to help children with autism engage in a task and learn critical new skills — such as using a child’s “special interest” to connect to material, giving choices to promote involvement, reinforcing responses during a task, working for a reinforcer, and interspersing both easy and challenging tasks to mediate frustration. Combining these strategies as a “package” has been shown to improve motivation and engagement — while, at the same time, decreasing behaviors that negatively impact learning.

New mobile devices can help educators and therapists engage children on the autism spectrum, using the power of edutainment. With mobile technology — iPad, iPhone, tablet, and apps that literally fit in the palm of one’s hand — students on the autism spectrum are edutaining themselves and learning like never before. As a matter of fact, studies have found that mobile technology not only motivates but allows children with autism to concentrate during learning and demonstrate what they have learned.

The concept of edutainment is not new, as a matter of fact. In the past, we have been edutained by a number of now-famous shows — Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Smart Songs — to teach topics such as math, science, social skills, and history. Board and video games have also been used to teach social skills and academic concepts.

Edu-tainment and apps — how do we employ the powerful principles of edutainment to engage students in academic tasks and improve performance, using apps on mobile devices? Choosing a great edutainment app is more than just picking a math or reading app; here are a few tips on choosing apps that use edutainment to effectively teach important skills such as communication, social behavior, or academics:

  • Use the apps yourself prior to giving them to your children or students.
  • Choose apps that can be customized with the child’s information or picture.
  • Find apps that include reinforcers (verbal or sound).
  • Emphasize apps that have a point system or levels.
  • Pick an app that engages as many of the senses possible.
  • Download apps that use various themes and are not repetitive.
  • Encourage your child to “help” choose the app.

Technology is increasingly infiltrating the educational system giving students with autism access to tools that stimulate crucial areas of the brain responsible for learning and entertainment. Whether at home or in school, engagement and learning can go hand in hand.

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InnerVoice Communication App

Engaging, fun, Effective Communication at a fraction of The Price

Introductory Price $9.99

Introductory Price
$9.99
Click Image to Buy

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iTherapy and MotionPortrait, Inc. are proud to give you InnerVoice, setting a new standard for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps with never-before-seen features such as animated self-avatars and remote prompting.

InnerVoice will immerse you into a total communication environment — where you not only hear the desired message, but see it being produced. This award winning, patented, and affordable app takes full advantage of all the iPad has to offer.

As therapists working daily with students on the autism spectrum we saw a tremendous need for an affordable communication solution. We decided to make InnerVoice accessible to all individuals with special needs, by offering InnerVoice at a very affordable price of $19.99. Our goal is to give all families the opportunity take advantage of the powerful new features offered by this incredible app, InnerVoice.

Establishing a New Set of Standards For AAC Apps

Animated Avatars

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Video Self-Modeling (VSM) uses positive self-imagery of an individual performing a task, such as communicating, encouraging the individual to imitate the behavior. VSM is a highly effective approach for children who are visual learners and have challenges focusing on live models. The idea is that the individual sees him/herself communicating successfully and can then imitate that behavior.

InnerVoice takes full advantage of VSM by animating the user’s image to successfully communicate a message thus providing powerful visual prompts with the added benefit of a more personal mode of expression.

These 3D animated avatars not only engage users and communication partners of all ages but also improve speech comprehension by displaying synchronized mouth movements. By animating self-portraits, users can see themselves produce target behaviors and in doing so learn how to communicate.

Remote Prompting

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InnerVoice features remote-prompting, a patent-pending feature that allows a new approach to teaching communicative independence, using mobile devices. This technique allows learners to receive a prompt on their iPad that guides them to the correct response.

With InnerVoice, prompts are sent via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from the educator’s device to the user’s iPad, without saying a word, to ensure the child will perform the correct skill and reduce the probability of errors and frustration. Most importantly, remote prompting reduces confusing verbal explanations and auditory overload that interfere with learning communication-related concepts.

Edutainment–Education meets Entertainment For a Positive Outcome

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Users can animate most images and make them speak: what they say is only limited by their imagination. This entertainment factor enables users to practice new skills through play — heightening engagement and interest in learning.

InnerVoice was collaboratively developed by iTherapy, LLC and MotionPortrait, Inc. — two companies committed to making communication an enriching, fascinating, and entertaining experience. iTherapy is a speech pathologist-owned and -operated company, which designs multisensory learning and communication tools for special needs populations. MotionPortrait, Inc. is an entertainment solution company that evokes surprise and impression through creative technological innovations. MotionPortrait’s technology automatically creates a 3D face model from a single digital photograph.

Features Include

  • 2 embedded vocabularies that are research based and incredibly easy to use, lets you get started immediately.
    1. Core Vocabulary is essential to spontaneous communication. According to research, Core Vocabulary comprises approximately 85% of conversational speech.
    2. Basic Vocabulary, which includes core and extended vocabulary words.
    3. Color-coded organization – the buttons are organized to provide simple access for users.
  • Genuine Text-to-Speech children’s voices from Acapela Group to give a voice to those with challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, downs syndrome, etc.
  • Record feature lets you record your message or sound effects in any style or language.
  • Build your own vocabulary to meet your specific requirement.
  • Customize buttons and folders with written words to support literacy as Dr. Temple Grandin describes in her Teaching Tips for Children And Adults With Autism, “so that the child can hear the word and view the picture and printed word simultaneously.”
  • Enhance buttons and folders with pictures using the built in camera, camera roll or standard emoji keyboard.

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Lois Jean Brady and Matthew Guggemos are practicing speech-language pathologists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Matthew was the recipient of the 2013 Mensa Education & Research Foundation Award for his patent on technology including the features of InnerVoice. Lois is an award winning author and producer of the public broadcast show Autism TodayTV. Read more about Lois and Matthew at Innervoice

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