Autism is a neural abnormality that occurs in children and is difficult to detect (Woolfson, 2011; Tek, Jaffery, Fein, & Naigles, 2008; Tong, Sainsbury, & Craig, 2007). The condition is harmful to children since it affects their development and can cause learning disorders (Lindsey-Glenn & Gentry, 2008; Matson, 2007; Lingnau & Lenschow, 2010). The topic of autism has not received much attention from researchers and there is inadequate information regarding the effectiveness of digitalized learning among autistic children (Mills, 2013; Mintz, Gyori, & Aagaard, 2012; O’Brien & Pearson, 2014; Moore, 2011).
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Parents of children with autism in Saudi Arabia have complained that the government has neglected the needs of autistic children by failing to finance their education and research to detect the effectiveness of the digital platform to facilitate their learning. Various companies across the world have engaged in the development of software and applications designed to reduce the difficulty that characterizes autistic learning (Rogers & Dawson, 2010; Scheuermann & Webber, 2012; Sapsford & Jupp, 2006). This research proposal will explore the difficulties experienced by autistic children based on research findings contained in the current literature and give recommendations to the ministry of education in Saudi Arabia on the effectiveness of digital games. The study will identify a sample of autistic children to base their recommendations on and provide the methodology used to arrive at the conclusions and commendations.
Assistive technologies targeting children suffering from autism have gradually evolved as the Apple Company enhances the manufacturing of electronic devices that suit the needs of that group of students (Powell & Jordan, 2011; Rao & Gagie, 2006; Preissler & Carey, 2005). The invention of iPod, iPad, and tablets has been a major step towards solving the problem of autistic learning. However, a gap exists between their existence and their integration into the curriculum of autistic learning (Sebat et al., 2007; Siegel, 2013; Shamir & Margalit, 2011). In Saudi Arabia, few children have benefited from the new invention since little knowledge exists on the effectiveness of digitalized autistic learning. In addition to gadgets, various applications have been developed that suit the needs of autistic children. The applications are designed in such a way that they help teachers to make appraisals regarding children’s understanding of the lessons using adaptive techniques and multimedia features.
Some apps such as the ABPathfinder can collect and centralize data regarding students’ performance in a class setting (Müller, Schuler, & Yates, 2008; Noens & van Berckelaer-Onnes, 2014; Symes & Humphrey, 2011b). Such an app may help teachers in the appraisal process for their students’ performance. The quality of data entered into the digital system is guaranteed since the apps have the automatic ability to correct errors in the instructions given by different tutors in an autistic class setting.
Do digital games and assistive technology improve communication of children with autism in Saudi Arabia
Numerous studies have covered the issue of autism among children and the difficulties experienced by the group regarding education and communication (Cheng & Ye, 2010; Chowdhury, 2009; Cowan & Allen, 2007). However, only a few types of research connecting the new technology with autistic learning have been documented thus limiting the benefits of the novel expertise for the group (Oberleitner, Ball, Gillette, Naseef, & Stamm, 2012; Ozonoff et al., 2008; Parish‐Morris, Hennon, Hirsh‐Pasek, Golinkoff, & Tager‐Flusberg, 2007). Nevertheless, in the past few decades, researchers have devoted their energy and time towards research aimed at establishing the link between the two to maximize the benefits that accrue from the new technology (Klinger, Klinger, & Pohlig, 2007; Korhonen, Kärnä, & Räty, 2014; Kourkoulou, Kuhn, Findlay, & Leekam, 2013). Kientz, Goodwin, Hayes, and Abowd (2013) explore the opportunities afforded by the new technology giving illustrative examples to that effect. According to Krug, Arick, and Almond (2008), the companies involved in the production of the apps consider both the connection to the technology that many students have and the adaptive nature of assessments.
Lessons available concerning the digital platform integrate theoretical work with practical activity to assess the students’ comprehension of the lesson (Reed, Watts, & Truzoli, 2013; Ritchie, Lewis, Nicholls, & Ormston, 2013; Rehfeldt, Dillen, Ziomek, & Kowalchuk, 2007). In such cases, a student is awarded a badge upon completing the activity. The activity-based lessons make students remain engaged and motivate them to concentrate on classwork to acquire the badge at the end of the activity (Stokes, 2008; Symes & Humphrey, 2011a). To acquire the badge, a student is asked to provide certain links available in the lessons, a strategy that equally mobilizes students’ concentration and communication (Mayes & Calhoun, 2007; McGonigle-Chalmers, Alderson-Day, Fleming, & Monsen, 2013; Micali, Chakrabarti, & Fombonne, 2014). Repetition is yet another tool that is included in the digital learning where certain components of a lesson are repeated systematically in a lesson to boost the students’ understanding (Ferreira, Travassos, Sampaio, & Pereira-Guizzo, 2013; Fombonne et al., 2014; Fletcher-Watson, 2014).
The sample will be selected from a cross-section of autistic institutions in Saudi Arabia with the help of teachers in such schools. The sample will be large enough (80 children) to allow the generalization of results attained from the study (Moore, McGrath, & Thorpe, 2010; Morse, 2011; Moore & Calvert, 2010). All children between the ages of 6 and 18 years with autistic behaviors will be eligible for recruitment in the study. The sample will be divided into two: digital learning will be availed to one group while control group learning will follow the manual book and pencil method of study.
Data will be collected and analyzed through both qualitative and quantitative methods to capture all the important data from the participants successfully. Each student will have access to an iPad with all the necessary apps installed. With the help of the ABPathfinder software, each student will be required to attend a 3-hour lesson, which will involve the basics of autism learning as spelled in the curriculum (Boyd et al., 2015; Lind & Williams, 2012; Lawson, 2010). Under the digital learning method, the students will then be required to attempt activities that appear at the end of each lesson (Harrison, O’Hare, Campbell, Adamson, & McNeillage, 2012; Hill, 2014; Kéri, 2014). Data regarding the students who manage to acquire a badge following their ability to answer the questions correctly will be gathered and used as the basis for assessing the overall results. The 3-hour lessons will continue daily for about one month with results from each session recorded for later analysis. The sessions will run concurrently with the manual ones, and the results from each group collected.
The probability sampling method will be used for this research since the participants’ contacts will be readily available. Also, this method, if properly used, gives more accurate results than can accurately be generalized. Under this method, statistical methods would be invoked to select randomly the data to be analyzed (Grynszpan, Weiss, Perez-Diaz, & Gal, 2014; Dowell, Mahone, & Mostofsky, 2009; Duarte, Bordin, Yazigi, & Mooney, 2005).
Generalization of Results
The outcomes acquired from the study will be deemed to represent the whole population with only a 5% error allowance. The findings will, therefore, be deemed 95% correct and generalization shall be practical. The results from the findings will then be represented in charts and graphs for easy interpretation (Bosseler & Massaro, 2008; Bradley & Bolton, 2010; Mechling, Gast, & Seid, 2009). The generality of the outcomes will be the final step where the findings got from the sample will be deemed to represent the whole population.
Analysis of Results
The digital framework will allow teachers to analyze the data effectively (Beale, 2005; Beaumont & Sofronoff, 2008; Boisvert, 2014). It provides an easy way of representing students’ performance data in charts and graphs for easy analysis. Data from all students involved in the study will be analyzed and presented in charts and graphs for simple retrieval and interpretation (Abell, Bauder, & Simmons, 2007; Aresti-Bartolome & Garcia-Zapirain, 2014; Åsberg & Sandberg, 2010).
Autism is a disorder characterized by social and communication problems that make learning for the affected children difficult. Children suffering from the condition face challenges in relating to their peers and at times may show signs of anger for unjustifiable reasons. Research indicates that stigma greatly compounds the problem of learning among autistic kids as they face stigmatization from their colleagues. However, according to recent data, the number of children who have benefited from the new technology has risen over the past few decades as new improved gadgets continue to evolve.
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