Many of us look towards technology for future improvements in the treatment of a host of diseases and ailments. But technology isn’t always an easy answer; sometimes it does more harm than good.
Like using computers to help autistic kids interact. “Kids are attracted to technology, and computers and devices like iPads can appear to help draw autistic kids out of their shell,” says Haifa University Professor Tamar Weiss, one of the world’s leading experts on the use of technology in autism research. “But sometimes that attraction is not a good thing. Kids with autism ignore social interactions, so they often feel very comfortable with computers, because using them is a singular activity. They can sit with an iPad for a whole day and never look up even once.” The trick, Weiss told The Times of Israel, is to figure out ways to use the attraction of technology to help autistic kids become more social.
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Weiss was speaking during a recent International Autism Conference, held in Jerusalem, and sponsored by the Icare4Autism organization, which initiates and funds research working towards treating autism. Among the topics discussed at the two-day conference were the genetic basis for autism, working with preschoolers and grade school children, developing work opportunities for adult victims of autism, medical issues and treatments for individuals with autism — and ways technology could be used to help autism victims. Speakers hailed from around the world, including the U.S., Europe, South America, Singapore, the Philippines, and other countries.
Weiss, of Haifa University’s Dept. of Occupational Therapy, collaborates with teams in Israel (at Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities), Italy, and the UK to develop methods to harness the power of technology to help autism victims. One of the hallmarks of autism is impaired social interaction and communication, a pattern of behavior that becomes evident early on among those suffering from the disease, and continuing throughout life. Researchers say that early behavioral or cognitive intervention can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills; and technology, Weiss believes, can help autistic kids become more socially interactive, impacting the pattern of isolation and providing them with cues and signals they can use to develop relationships with others.