Captions supporting students with autism

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Monday, 1 December 2014 16:32pm

Captions are acknowledged as being beneficial for a range of students with diverse learning needs, including Deaf and hearing impaired, English as a Second Language and now a new initiative from Ai-Media in the UK shows how captions support students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Young girl pressing finger down on a tablet device

ASD affects 1 in 100 people. Some studies from the USA suggest this number may be 1 in 68. ASD includes those with autism and an associated learning difficulty and those with Asperger Syndrome, who may be of average or above average intelligence. All will be affected to a greater or lesser extent in areas affecting communication and social understanding.

For example, Garman in 2011 discussed the issues of audio overload, the difficulty in filtering out different sounds and the distinction between what is relevant and what is not, for some people on the autism spectrum.  She noted that “if there is an audio overload with lots of different sounds because of the audio processing issues some people on the autistic spectrum have, all or most of the audio could be rendered totally meaningless and captions provide a backup for when this occurs”.

The pilot programs being undertaken in a range of Local Authority schools in the UK with Ai-Media’s captioning technology Ai-Live, which was developed with Ai-Media’s ASD expert Eileen Hopkins, being used to support the learning styles and challenges faced by young people with an ASD by particularly addressing problems in social communication and auditory processing. Many of these students have a very literal interpretation of language, and this leads to issues in understanding figurative speech, metaphor and understanding complex instructions. Many are also visual learners.

The teacher’s speech is transformed into text and then delivered to the student via any web-enabled device, iPad, tablet or interactive whiteboard. For students with an ASD, this is delivered in the form of “Simple Text”.

Ai-Live Simple Text removes metaphor and figurative language. It breaks down complex instructions into simple steps and delivers content in simple form, with one idea in each sentence. Transcripts are available for revision and reflection after the live session.

There are a number of benefits of this approach:

  • For visual learners, the reinforcement provided by seeing what is said is immensely valuable. For those with auditory processing issues, the built-in time delay of a few seconds allows them to better process the information and lesson content.
  • Students who have high levels of anxiety often exhibit behaviours which prevent them engaging with lesson content. The reduction in anxiety achieved by using the visual reinforcement of captions to engage can increase time on task, mindfulness and focus.
  • The ability to change the font and the background colours help in addressing the sensory sight issues experienced by some students.
  • Students who are experiencing difficulties at a level which demands withdrawal from the class can continue to access the lesson via a tablet in a less stressful environment, which allows other pupils to continue without distraction.

The program is offered either via 40 half-hour sessions or via 25 hour-long sessions. According to Ai-Media it has found to date that the half-hour sessions are the most useful.

The University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education is used in the evaluation of Ai-Live for ASD. Teachers complete a Behavioural Rating Scale (BRS) measuring attention and arousal control, emotional regulation, social skills, school and learning behaviours, sensory issues and how students use tablets. The BRS is completed before starting to use the technology and at regular periods during the term. By measuring these particular items, researchers can assess the impact of captions on behavioural hindrances to learning.

Media Access Australia’s Education Manager, Anne McGrath said the “use of captions in education supports the Universal Design for Learning framework, an approach that aims to give all students equal opportunity to learn; and helps students remain focussed”.

The service has now been launched with key education providers in the UK and Australia, including the National Autistic Society, the Autism Alliance, Young Epilepsy, where the majority of students have an ASD, and key Local Authority schools.

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