One of the features of persons who have Asperger's syndrome is a struggle with social skills, one's that seem to come naturally to others. At the center, Sue Pederson is aware of some teenage boys who have trouble with making conversation; they might not know what to talk about, or having started talking, they do not know when to stop.
Sue, a psychologist, and her colleagues at the Fraser Child & Family Center in Minneapolis found a new way to reach students. That way was through the use of iPods that play music and videos in order to teach them how to interact. The ipods may have begun as a form of entertainment, but Sue says the technology turned into an unexpected plus for children and teenagers with special needs. iPods can be packed with the forms of information that these kids need to get through their day. Even though the center is still experimenting with the use of iPods in this way, Sue says, "I think it's going to spread like wildfire."
Asperger's syndrome is a form of Autism; people with Asperger's have difficulty telling what is or is not appropriate behavior. At the Fraser center, Sue's staff came up with the notion of using and programming iPod's to act as a way to to inform people with Asperger's about social behaviors. The staff assisted students in the creation of a series of short videos and slide shows on how to react to various social settings. Some of them are a mere thirty seconds in length, such as, 'Let the other person talk AND change the topic,' or, 'how to respect other people's boundaries,' or,' Use your filter!.'
The world of special education refers to scripts like these as, 'social stories,' they are used to teach basic social skills. Many Henderson, a worker for the Fraser center's Asperger's program states, "It's a mental checklist for things to think about when you're interacting with other people." Students can transfer videos like these onto their iPods and replay them again and again in order to embed the lessons in their minds.
One parent, Jack O'Riley, says that it is just what his fifteen-year-old son P.J. needed. Jack said, 'This really hit the mark. Like many kids with Asperger's, P.J. is baffled by the normal rhythms of social interaction: in conversation, he may blurt out too much information, or say nothing at all." P.J. is also easily distracted and has difficulty staying on task, other common traits of Asperger's. For many years, P.J.'s father posted laminated signs around their home to remind his son how to get through his day; tasks such as taking a shower, bushing his teeth, and getting ready for school.
The use of iPod videos and slide-shows by the Fraser center has changes the use of signs in P.J.'s home. Now P.J.'s father says, in relation to the videos, 'we can plug this stuff into his little 'extended memory.' P.J. is building a library of these videos and slide-shows on his iPod, one's that are at his fingertips. P.J.'s father says,'He can pull up a topic on his 'to do list' and find everything he needs to know.'
P.J. is not alone when it comes to an appreciation for his electronic iPod. Sixteen year old Myles, who is also a student at the Fraser center, says he has learned to use his iPod to help control his emotions by playing his favorite music. Myles says, "It helps take my mind off of it." Myles, who rarely starts a conversation, also says, "I just pull out my iPod and go through a list of things to talk about."
The staff at the Fraser center came up with the idea of using iPods in this manner when the noticed students with Asperger's using their iPods as a calming device to block out noise or other distractions. Sue says, "We just started thinking how else can we use this technology." The center obtained a $7,500 grant to purchase iPods and additional equipment and began experimenting.
The Fraser center is not the only organization to have the idea of using technologies such as the iPod to assist people with disabilities. Jim Ball, adviser for the Autism Society of America, says that similar projects are appearing around America. There are people designing adaptations for technologies such as Smart Phones, Palm Pilots, and other forms of technology which fill the same needs - www.apple.com/accessibility/itunes/vision.html
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