Come meet KASPAR the social robot at Autech 2015

kaspar-4About A call to action to the autism community: Why we must all champion assistive technology by Jane Carolan, Wirral Autistic Society

As director of client services for a regional autism charity I’m frequently asked if we can use assistive technology to reduce support hours and costs.

But assistive technology isn’t just about cost reduction, it’s about transforming lives in the most touching and inspiring ways.  Here are five reasons why  I believe passionately that  anyone working in the autism field should learn about assistive technologies and embrace their use

1 Communications apps are giving voices to the non-verbal. Peter is a lovely young man with severe autism who  hadn’t spoken a word since he was two.  Now, with the help of an iPad and the Proloquo2go app, he’s able to say good morning to his support workers, to tell them how he’s feeling, to tell his mum exactly what he wants for breakfast (porridge and banana is a favourite), and much more besides. Peter is transformed.

2 Mobile devices are encouraging independence. Bethan, 16, has Asperger’s syndrome and struggles with anxiety, particularly at school. Her smart phone is equipped with Brain in Hand, a new cloud-based technology which links mobile devices with a secure website and a support network. Bethan presses an orange button on her phone if she’s stressed – a red one if she’s having a meltdown.  Her mentor, Chloe, monitors Bethan’s state of mind closely and phones her whenever needed.  Using this system, Bethan has just completed her GCSEs, an incredible achievement.

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3 Social robots can teach children with autism how to interact and communicate. The University of Hertfordshire’s human-like robot, KASPAR, acts as a social mediator and can be used to encourage turn-taking or shared gazing, and other actions that those with autism find very difficult.  In the latest phase of the project, KASPAR has come out of the lab and into community life. Several KASPARs ar1. e now being tested in family homes across the UK.

4 Biometric technologies could mean carers and educators are able to predict meltdowns in people with autism, by minutely monitoring bodily changes such as skin temperature and heart rate. This phenomenal technology could be market-ready in 2-5 years and could transform the way we support those with severe autism who are unable to tell us how they are feeling.

5 I’ve saved the issue of cost reduction until my last point.  In this age of austerity and financial pressures it is a reality we all have to face.  The fact is that,  yes, assistive technology can save support costs.  An evidence report produced by Brain in Hand and the Devon Partnership NHS Trust at the end of 2013 looked closely at the economic benefits of the technology, along with quality of life issues. One individual  had used Brain in Hand during a period when he moved from residential care to supported living. He used all of the features on the platform, however, he gradually found he needed less and less mentor support, despite the huge life changes he was going through.  This man’s move into supported living saved social care budgets £300 to £500 per week.  Even when the costs of Brain in Hand were factored in, the annual cost saving was £13,600 to the public purse.

The technologies I’ve mentioned are the tip of the iceberg.  This is an exciting and fast-moving sector.  Surely if we all embrace assistive technology now and nurture its development, future generations of people with autism will have a quality of life we can’t even dream of.  Imagine thought-activated technology, advanced robotics and augmented reality – technologies that we once thought of as science fiction – becoming widely available and affordable.

What is your own experience of assistive technology? If you find this topic as inspiring as I do, then please join me at our Autech 2015 conference in Manchester on 1 October.

Find out more about Autech 2015 at www.autech2015.co.uk

About Jane Carolan

Jane Carolan5 (1) (2)Jane began her career as a support worker in Lancaster, working for the charity Scope. She was then appointed as director of care at a new school for children with autism and significant communication difficulties. Prior’s Court School, based in Newbury, has since been recognised internationally for its excellent standards of education and care for children with ASC. In 2008 Jane joined Wirral Autistic Society.  Today she is director of client services, a wide-ranging role which sees her managing the charity’s residential, supported living, respite, children and families and day services.

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