It’s common for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to experience sensory overload or adverse reactions to sensory input more often than their neurotypical classmates. Some children with ASD find processing stimuli, such as sights and sounds, difficult and exhibit hypersensitivity to being touched. Sensory overload can occur in the classroom when multiple stimuli occur simultaneously, often leading to outbursts and/or meltdowns. What some children may perceive as normal stimulation within the classroom can be perceived by an autistic child as overwhelming or even painful. This makes attending school a challenge for some children diagnosed with autism.
Reducing sensory overload with remote classroom technology
In Toronto, the district school board decided to start using WebMoti this fall in an effort to make positive change for children affected by autism. WebMoti is a multimedia multisensory system that allows students who experience sensory overload to attend class remotely in a setting they can control. Once such details are finalized, the Toronto District School Board will be the first school board in Canada to test this technology.
The system has two components. The first one is the WebChair, a multimedia chair which allows the students to view one another in real time on their own computer screens. Any student with autism will be able to adjust his or her visual stimulus by zooming in or out on the teacher, on any classmate he or she is communicating with, and any part of the classroom viewed. Students with autism may also adjust the sound and the background noise by tuning in to the voice of the teacher through the microphone that he or she wears.
The WebChair was originally tested several years ago by Graham Smith, the founder and creator of the system, on 1,000 children with cancer who were homebound. It was tested a few years later on children with autism and the tool was discovered to successfully reduce anxiety and overstimulation in the school environment. The second component is the Emoti-Chair which was created with the assistance of Ryerson University. The Emoti-Chair was originally designed for children who are hearing impaired in an effort to help them feel music and sounds through vibrations produced by the innovative chairs.
According to Smith, by providing children with autism the chance to stimulate their senses, they are more likely to mature their sensorium which will enable them to filter sensory information instead of being overwhelmed by it. This will allow for the support many children with autism need to succeed in the classroom.
This system’s testing is funded by the Ontario Centers for Excellence (OCE) Advancing Education program. It is anticipated that approximately 16 elementary and post-secondary Toronto District School Board students will be able to try out WebMoti in the next 24 months.
This groundbreaking tool for autism is significant since most children today are considered digital natives, growing up in the digital world, and can handle the technology. Children with autism are no different. They are also comfortable with having a device at hand.
Technology is the future for learning with autism
There are several ways technology can help children with ASD according to an article in The Huffington Post. For children with autism who are nonverbal, there are apps called visual scene displays that can help children with verbal skill issues. Another app, called the SceneSpeak, makes interactive displays as well as stories that have speech to text voices while the narration goes. Speech with Milo is another app which comes with an interactive storybook. This helps the children sharpen their storytelling and social skills.
By helping their communicative and social skills be honed, students with autism can develop more confidence. They are no longer intimidated by the classroom’s social aspects once they have technology in their hands.