Using Photos and Visual-Processing Assistive Technologies to Develop Self-Expression and Interpersonal Communication of Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome (AS)

By Shrieber, Betty; Cohen, Yael | Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Using Photos and Visual-Processing Assistive Technologies to Develop Self-Expression and Interpersonal Communication of Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome (AS)


Shrieber, Betty, Cohen, Yael, Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning


Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of photographs and assistive technologies for visual information processing as motivating tools for interpersonal and intrapersonal communication of adolescents with Asperger Syndrome (AS).

In May 2013 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition (DSM-5) the diagnostic criteria for Autistic Disorder (AD), Asperger Syndrome (AS), and Pervasive Developmental Disorder--not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). DSM-5 presented a new category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which incorporates these previously separate diagnoses (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

While there are some who would argue that the "Aspergers-like" label which doctors may continue to use when diagnosing ASD should dispel these fears, others still see it as the removal of a condition, which for several decades has had its own unique characteristics, and therefore a negative development which will reduce research funding and affect public perception (Aspergers Advice, 2013).

In our research we include AS as part of the ASD spectrum. The choice to adhere to AS definitions stems from two key reasons: firstly, our research was designed before the publication of DSM-5; secondly, study participants were diagnosed according to the previous professional definitions. Accordingly, the investigative approach was also based on the traditional AS definition, as this was still the current terminology when the study was conducted.

AS is characterized by high cognitive abilities, normal to high intelligence, and normal language function (Bauer, 1996; Graetz & Spampinato, 2008). However, like almost all people on the ASD spectrum, they also typically lack social skills and have more difficulty with identifying emotions through facial expression than their peers without autism (LaCava, Golan, Baron-Cohen, & Smith--Myles, 2007; Lindner & Rosen, 2006. Their poor social skills limit their ability to conduct reciprocal discourse and most prominently present a dogged focus on a small list of conversation topics (Attwood, 2006). These characteristics cause them to be truly authentic when engaging with others as people with AS have no natural instinct for manipulation and habitually say what they believe to be true, a trait that may also cause embarrassment and inadvertent offense (Att-wood, 2006).

The varied characteristics of students with AS require differentiated instruction, including interventions that foster interests and strengths while providing strategies to compensate for areas of weakness. School curriculums often focus on the development of communication skills and expression in academic texts centered on selected subject matter, but for AS students special attention must be directed to providing tools to cope with understanding social and personal communication, such as dealing with changes, codes, and hints. Without guidance, these struggles may cause frustration, and manifest in behaviors considered by society to be unsuitable.

Because many students with AS are described as visual learners (Ganz, Earles-Vollrath, & Cook, 2011; Rao & Gagie, 2006) they tend to show improved response to information presented visually. By using a student's visual processing strength, these strategies can help decrease reliance on areas of deficits, such as auditory processing and communication. The use of various visual aids is necessary for teaching and developing communication and expression along with class conversation (Hume, Loftin, & Lantz, 2009; Meadan, Ostrosky, Triplett, Michna & Fettig, 2011; Rao & Gagie, 2006). Photos provide a glimpse into the private world of students, and group viewing can open the door to the child's experiences, hobbies, favorite places, etc. They can also serve as a starting point for interaction with peers (Shalita, Friedman, & Harten, 2011). …

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