This week’s blog article was written by Stephen McHugh, who runs the blog Stephen’s Evolution.
Stephen is a blogger with Asperger’s (a form of autism) who likes creativity, science and music. “My aim is to share what it’s like to live, learn, and not lose hope with autism.” His condition affects the way he interacts with the world around him. The goal of his blog is to give an idea of how to manage this condition.
Within his blog, Stephen explains, “I know, from personal experience, how testing this condition can be, not just for the person with the condition, but for close relatives, close friends, employers, and those in teaching capacities too. I had delayed speech, language, and social development.”
The blog is named ‘Stephen’s Evolution’ because it represents his development and progress on the autism spectrum. More importantly, he aims to show that through his progress, interests, and experiences, that there is always hope for autism.
His fantastic article discusses how immersive technology could help autistic children in their learning.
Read the full article below – an inspiring read for anyone wanting to learn more about the benefits of our spaces for children with autism and special educational needs.
Could immersive technology help with autistic children\’s education?
There is an area of technology that recently caught my eye. It is known as immersive virtual reality. When I read about the potential benefits to those on the autistic spectrum, especially their education and learning, it got me thinking about the effects such technology may have had on my learning, and how it could impact the learning of children who may be going through similar learning experiences to me.
I’ve only experienced virtual reality in headsets. However, for me, this technological development takes this to a new level. From what I’ve read, it generates 3D images. One aim here is to make users feel part of any particular environment or situation being simulated.
Features include interactive and touch-sensitive walls and floors, along with a sound system to add to the overall experience. This, along with the 360-degree fields of view on offer, can make one feel like they’re actually experiencing the experiences for real.
With headsets, one can feel more isolated, whereas with this new development one can share the same area with others, increasing the feeling of being part of a community.
If used in schools, teachers can use the expressions of children to determine their experiences, feelings, and opinions of immersive technology.
Below, I have outlined my ideas based on my learning experiences of how this technology could be used in various subject areas. They’re not exhaustive, but they may even inspire ideas of your own.
I had a fascination with heights, lengths, and other forms of measurement. Activities I’d have like to have included are as follows:
By simulating the throwing of objects into the air and having the system calculate their heights based on direction, the force of the throw, and the weight of the object thrown. Here, opportunities could be given to do calculations based on conversions from metres to feet, centimetres, millimetres, or inches.
As for space travel, I’d want to imagine being in a spacecraft, setting its speed, and seeing how long it would take to travel to various planets, stars, and other celestial objects. This is linked to my interest in space, and the calculations I did to work out the distances to the stars in miles and kilometres since I had a fascination with extreme dimensions.
If you wish, you can read about what helped me to understand maths concepts here.
For those interested in music, including me, one thing such a system could include is by having a development where musical notes could be played by one simply moving their hands and fingers across the walls, and by tapping the floors.
The notes could be played in accordance with the speeds of hand and feet movements.
One could also have a list of different instruments, musical voices, and tempos to choose from, just like on ordinary musical keyboards. Any user should even have the chance to come up with their own compositions.
Something like this could have therefore had the potential in helping me to develop my musical ability further.
Language and communication skills
The technology can give children opportunities to talk to others, including their peers and teachers about their experiences of this technology, including what they’re seeing, and any simulated places of interest to them. This is an example of how one’s language development and communication skills can be developed.
It is here I’m reminded of when my mum would find pictures for me, and ask me to describe what was going on in them in my own words. In addition, she encouraged me to write short stories based on my interests and personal experiences.
One included a story where I’d pretend to be a ghost and go around frightening unsuspecting people. A setting with the inside of a haunted house being simulated could have been ideal for me. You can read about my experiences of learning to read and write here.
Other possible content could involve traveling to other countries to experience other cultures. There could be opportunities included where one puts their foreign language knowledge and skills to the test by, let’s say, ordering food and drink in restaurants, ordering train tickets, or by simply talking to locals.
When I was taught French at school, our teachers would show us pictures and tell us phrases in French which were appropriate to them. Here content could include scenes and pictures with a list of words and phrases in a foreign language studying. It is here where one could be asked to point out which phrase matches a picture or word matches an object in a particular scene.
I have had a keen interest in science, space, and the natural and physical world for most of my life. Content could be set up where one can zoom through space, and touch planets, stars, and other celestial objects to explore and find out more about them.
I had a fascination with gravity and testing it out, so I’d have liked to have experienced being on the moon. Here I\’d quite like the idea of dropping chosen objects to test the moon\’s gravity by seeing how fast they’d fall there.
Another environment of interest to me that could be simulated is under the oceans where one could travel where they want, find the deepest areas, ocean life, and other geological features there.
I had an interest in trees and was once allowed to do a project on them for school. A place I’d like to have experienced would be where the largest trees in the world are, just to get a sense of the scale of their sizes.
One time, I and the rest of my class got to choose countries to write about. My choice was Australia because of the interesting animals like kangaroos there. This is why I’d have liked to have close encounters with these animals using technology.
A favourite scene of mine here could be to explore the streets of London at the time of the Great Fire, and examine how it could have spread so quickly. In addition, I’d be interested in seeing what it would have been like to work in the cotton factories and coal mines around the time of the Industrial Revolution.
By having a scene with candles you can create a way to see that light can dispel darkness, and symbolise hope for better times in times of difficulty and uncertainty. This is why my faith is very important to me.
As light can also symbolise the light in the afterlife, this can also be a way to help communicate the passing of somebody. This can allow those who knew them to remember them in a tranquil setting. Such approaches here may help to encourage spiritual development.
My overall opinion
Pupils can explore the virtual surroundings in exciting ways that keep them engaged with teachers and their peers. This would have been important for me, especially in terms of getting me in the habit of being more interested in what my teachers would be doing with the rest of the class.
Bespoke content can be set up to match the requirements of certain schools, and ideally in relation to children’s strengths and interests.
Team working skills may also be developed, especially when discussing and investigating science-related matters.
Turn-taking when making use of any of the interactive features can enable the development of social skills.
Creative ability can, I believe, be developed with this technology too. Particular scenarios may inspire certain settings in thinking up stories along with creatures forming the basis for certain characters.
Another thing that stands out for me is the fact that it offers visual and interactive learning and possible range of experiences. One can engage with activities of interest to them away from any limitations imposed by a particular condition such as autism. This can make it easier for children to understand what they’re studying and new concepts.
Sensory overloads can be a common occurrence among those who have autism. I used to have this problem, especially with sudden loud noises.
By having relaxing scenes where there are only the sounds and sights of nature, problems associated with sensory overloads can be better managed. This can include having a simulated underwater environment where one can interact with the animals swimming there.
These immersive technologies have the potential to make a significant impact in the world, especially in terms of helping those with SEN to feel more included in their education and personal development.
Let me know your thoughts regarding how useful you think this technology may be for those with an autism spectrum disorder.
And if you’re in a teaching capacity, are you making use of technology like this including virtual reality with pupils who have special education needs? If so, what are your opinions of it?
by Stephen McHugh
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