Video game design improving education, employment for students with autism
Seeing the struggles her autistic son faced in mainstream classrooms has inspired a Brisbane researcher to develop assistive technology that can be used by all students regardless of their learning ability.
Queensland University of Technology PhD student Anne Ozdowsaka and mother of Conrad (8 years) has been conducting the research funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) with the help of students from Autism Queensland’s Studio G games, animation and interactive design program.
The research is incorporating video game design and universal design for learning, as well as input from students with autism, to develop software and tools that can help all students to improve their writing skills.
Supervising the research are Project Leader, Dr Jill Ashburner (Autism Queensland) and QUT’s Associate Professor Peta Wyeth and Professor Suzanne Carrington.
Describing the research as ‘therapy by thesis’, Anne said that the daily struggle her son’s classroom teacher faced to try to include her son in lessons has motivated her to find a way to seamlessly integrate learning support into mainstream classrooms.
“Teachers face the challenge of meeting the needs of children with autism and other learning difficulties while maintaining an appropriate learning environment for all students,” she said.
“By creating tools that incorporate video game-like activity such as ‘levelling-up’ everyone in the class is using the same learning strategies but they can progress at a pace that’s appropriate for their learning ability.”
The research is combining peer modelled instructional videos with writing support software. The videos are designed for all students and demonstrate the writing strategy, while the writing support software is incorporated for students who have language or fine motor difficulties that impede their capacity to write.
Anne said she employed students with autism from Autism Queensland’s Studio G program to develop the videos to ensure that they were autism-friendly.
Now in its third year, Studio G is a games, animation and interactive design program to help young people on the autism spectrum to develop vital social, job and life skills.
“Imogen Ward (19) and her Studio G mentor Daisy van Ghert are editing the video presentations while Ryan Waterworth (23) is doing the music,” Anne said.
A recent Autism CRC study into the effectiveness of the Studio G program found students had acquired many new skills and increased their awareness of future study, training, or employment options, as well as increased levels of social participation and making new friendships.
Autism Queensland’s Studio G Program Coordinator, David McCartney said Imogen and Ryan were some of the first students to make the transition to work or further study and training.
“Studio G has exceeded all expectations,” he said. “Over 75 young people have participated in the program to date, with each intake oversubscribed.
“We will be expanding the program into Cairns and Mackay in July 2016, where we know there is a desperate need for autism-specific employment and educational support, which yield better outcomes than generic support services,” David said.
Both the Written Expression study and Studio G were initiated by Autism Queensland’s Dr Jill Ashburner, who is the Autism CRC's Project Leader for both studies.
The Autism CRC Education Research Program is Australia’s first, national effort incorporating all school systems, providing autism-specific strategies to enable children on the spectrum to access the curriculum and school environments.
April is Autism Awareness Month in Australia with World Autism Awareness Day observed on April 2. This year’s theme is "Autism and the 2030 Agenda: Inclusion and Neurodiversity" with a focus on mainstreaming disability in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that inequality is not perpetuated.