Innovative new technology is being developed by researchers to help people with autism read and understand text better.
Figurative language, irony, sarcasm and phrases that may have more than one meaning are among the many challenges for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), leading to lower educational achievements.
New web tool AUTOR relies on eye tracking technology to measure the accessibility of texts and pinpoint particular areas of difficulty in the text. It is being developed by the University of Wolverhampton’s Research Institute of Information and Language Processing (RIILP).
Victoria Yaneva, a PhD student at RIILP, said: “As many autistic people are known to experience specific reading comprehension difficulties, helping them read better would reduce school dropout, enhancing academic achievements, employability and social inclusion.
“The first step to achieving this is to provide content-developers who want to make their textbooks or websites accessible to people with autism (and thus for every other user), with a tool which is easy to use and at the same time reflects the difficulties autistic readers face.
“They will be able to get feedback on how difficult their text is for a person with autism, as well as how they can make it more accessible, for example, removing particular difficulties, inserting visual support or providing definitions.
Victoria said that children with autism usually acquire language later in their lives, which results in language and reading comprehension difficulties.
“We have found that our participants with autism tend to spend significantly longer looking at images inserted in the text and search for information on web pages in a different way,” she added.
The software will be used for online content, as well as textbooks. “Providing online information in an easy to read format is a legal requirement; however ASD has, until recently, been an often overlooked sector with very little research or suitable support for digital content,” she said. “AUTOR will offer support in a digital world, and prevent those with autism from being isolated.”
Researchers are now working with the Prince’s Trust to see how this technology can be embedded to help young people in Birmingham, as well as the City of Wolverhampton Council.
Victoria is working with Dr Constantin Orasan, Deputy Head of the Research Group, to implement and tune the features of AUTOR.
Anyone with autism who would like to assist with the project should contact 01902 312630 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Victoria recently presented at a TEDx event, part of TED, an organisation devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks.
AUTOR’s development can be followed at www.autor4autism.com.