Seminar 4: Delegates’ Feedback & Summary


Video interviews with the presenters can be found here.

Throughout the seminar, delegates were encouraged to put thoughts, questions and general feedback on post-it notes, which were displayed on the wall during the day.

A number of interesting points and questions emerged, some of which echoed those from previous seminars. Overall, delegates’ thoughts and feedback focussed on the following key themes:

  1. Benefits/pitfalls of technology
  2. Costs of technology
  3. Accessibility of technology (in the broadest sense)
  4. Technology vs. non-technology
  5. Technology vs. human interaction
  6. Involvement in technology development
  7. Open questions/possible directions

Welcome and Introduction: Prof Sarah Parsons, University of Southampton

1. Benefits/pitfalls of technology

A number of potential benefits for the use of technology were identified:

  • One of a box of tools that can be useful depending on individual need.
  • Technology use is quite creative and would be worthwhile in social skills training.
  • “I have been able to see the potential of using technology with children who have autism. I plan to share this knowledge with students to broaden their understanding of this.”
  • There are also benefits from therapists/clinicians when technologies are used (felt as less pathologising).

At the same time, participants noted that certain aspects of technology are neither positive or negative in and of themselves:

  • NOT being “real” has a benefit – can enable people to challenge own thinking (but also a pitfall potentially).

Finally, the issue of children’s safety was considered to be a potential concern:

  • “Wonderful to see developments in so many areas. My major concern, however, is in vulnerability/safeguarding. Many AS children/young people are very involved with technology and social networking. More guidance/research is needed to ensure safety in social networking etc. Many AS children can be subject to unscrupulous others through IT.”

Talk 1: Dr Thomas Parsons, University of North Texas

Talk 1: Dr Thomas Parsons, University of North Texas

2. Costs of technology

Another concern with respect to technology focussed on cost:

  • How can we mediate the costs of using this technology?
  • How do schools afford the technology?
  • The technology clearly has a role to play – but is it prohibitive due to cost? How can we make it more available?
3. Accessibility of technology (in the broadest sense)

Cost, however, is only one factor that must be considered when thinking about how to make technology more widely available:

  • How to make the technology accessible to a variety of individuals/families?
  • Accessibility: language, cost, diagnostic/clinical resources.
  • Different cultures, different social behaviour.
  • How can innovative technologies be used in different cultures? Can all these methods be transferred in a different language environment?

Talk 2: Professor Narcis Pares, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

Talk 2: Professor Narcis Pares, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

4. Technology vs. non-technology

Some delegates pondered whether, in the context of some of the potential barriers to wider availability, technology is actually necessary:

  • But do children really like tech, or is it that it is just cool and novel (it’s unavailable at home, lack of money). Always next biggest coolest thing.
  • I’m always happy to see different technological tools and their positive impact on kids. However seeing non-technological equivalent of these tools and exploring whether they would have the same effect on children remains as the main question.
  • Do we need sophisticated realistic technology or could we get the same effects with other less costly means/media?
  • Concern that focus will shift from acceptance of person and changing our behaviour to suit their needs, to reliance on technology. “I am not a technophobe; I just think there are simpler, less expensive techniques available which are by and large untested/ignored.”

One delegate summarised these concerns succinctly:

  • “In order to move forward as this field, we really need to move away from the technology versus non-technology debate. It’s about the affordances of particular objects, situations, activities, and whether they motivate engagement and communication (and enjoyment!). It might be a high-tech environment, but it could equally be a bubble wand.”
5. Technology vs. human interaction

This theme included different perspectives on the interplay between technology and human interaction:

  • The content was informative, but technology can never replace human contact and learning. This must be used carefully with ASD. “The robots were great and I believe have a place in autism.”
  • The role of the teacher should not be substituted by the robots. The human interaction is much more important. We have to emphasise the relationships between each other.
  • Much more important as a tool for facilitating human – human interaction.
6. Involvement in technology design

A key issue arising from this seminar focussed on technology design, considering what should be designed, and who should be involved in making those decisions (in particular, the crucial role of autistic people in the design of such technology):

  • Who decides what social skills we’re teaching?
  • Understanding of researchers/participants involved re key issues. For example, why work on these social skills? Understanding of autistic self-advocacy movement to understand what’s useful.
  • Doing research on or with?
  • How can we better link the pool of talent that autistic people are with the essential technical and engineering roles that they can so aptly fulfil?
  • Links between Disability Studies and people involved in the technology?
  • Technology can provide opportunities for supporting the learning of individuals with ASC. Hence, how shall we design these opportunities?
7. Open questions/possible directions

Finally, a number of open questions were identified, including thoughts on where future research should focus:

  • Do people with autism learn differently?
  • What about adults?
  • How do we address trust?
  • Role of sensory profile for participants – how does this affect responding?
  • How can we show how the technology might act as a mediator for social communication?
  • Technology as training tools have an added/specific value. How does task type influence the added/specific value? (if at all).
  • How much reality do you need? How real does simulation need to be?