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Enhancing Communication and Learning with Tablets, Smartphones and Smartwatches in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and/or Learning Difficulties
Start date: Sep 30, 2015, End date: Sep 29, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Autism is a life-long condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and also difficulties in flexibility in thinking and behavior. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in at least 1% of the population, and it is estimated that 25-50% of individuals with autism also have intellectual disability/learning difficulties. No medical treatment is available for the core symptoms of Autism. Students with autism progress much better when specific educational supports are provided. Visual supports for both receptive communication (daily agendas, individual work-systems, tasks structures, etc.) and expressive communication (alternative communications systems based on picture-exchange to communicate what they need, and to share ideas with others) are examples of autism-specific supports that have evidence for their effectiveness. Very often, these visual supports are provided by means of smart devices such as smartphones or smartwatches. However, the number and variety of technological solutions for people with disabilities is so big that is very difficult for families and professionals working with students with disabilities to find appropriate solutions. For a given individual it is difficult to assess what type of device is better; what device-protection systems should be considered; what type of software apps should be acquired (for communication, education, etc.); and what any training needs for parents and teachers are. Professionals and parents need support, tools and protocols for identifying the most appropriate support that is available for individual children with autism and/or learning disabilities. Preliminary work has been undertaken by several Spanish partners of this project proposal with a National Grant. These organisations have developed experimental protocols to assess and identify the needs of technological support and training for each student. SMART-ASD intends to generalize this practice to other countries (such as Turkey or UK) by developing software and online training materials that help professionals and parents to determine the most appropriate technological solutions for each student with autism and/or learning difficulties. The software App will automatize this process of assessment and will foster the transnational exchange of good practices acquired nationally. A multi-sectorial team has been built for this SMART-ASD project, including researchers from the three participating universities (UVEG, UBAH and NECMETIN), teachers and families from the six schools involved (AUTISMO BURGOS, AUCAVI, MIRAM, SANT CRISTÒFOL, FATMA and MERAM Schools) and continuous training institutions from regional governments (CEFIRE-GVA and KONYAMEM). Four schools involved (AUCAVI, MIRAM, FATMA and MERAM) are newcomers to Erasmus+. The objective of this diverse and multidisciplinary composition of the team is to assure the transferability of the project results to a diversity of contexts and to maximize the impact on different target groups. Three intellectual multilingual outputs are expected from the project work: Assessment App (O1), Online Training Facility (O2) and a complex Research Study (O3) designed to assess the effectiveness of the App. Two short-term training actions will take place in the UK, one for teachers (C1) and another for students (C2) have been planned to assist the necessary work for O1 and O2. Two Multiplier Events have been planned in Turkey (E1) and Spain (E2) to spread project results to more than 300 external participants. A high impact is expected on students with autism and their teachers, who will have ICT-based assessment and training tools to identify technologies that will strongly impact their learning and communication. The six schools involved will benefit from the generalization of these best practices around the educational use of technology and around the integration of technologies within the curriculum of students. Participating education departments from governments will increase their repertoire of training resources to prepare teachers. Participating universities from the three countries involved in the project will strengthen their contact with first-hand experience of attending students with autism and/or learning difficulties. This will increase their knowledge about these difficulties and will allow them to identify any additional needs. The digital nature of all the project results (App, online training and open-access research papers) will enormously facilitate dissemination of results both inside and outside organisations. SMART-ASD counts on a strategy of relying on existing agreements with non-profit organisations specialized in the maintenance of IT products for autism. This will also foster the transferability of the tools and educational practices to others and the generalization of their use, as the life-cycle of the products will then be much longer than the project life-cycle.
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