Within the NEWRON project, we are addressing parents which would be interested in participating on this activity. It means that they have the possibility to “incorporate” the children into the research project by enabling them “to entertain” themselves.
Initial project state
In the Czech Republic, professional services focused on the support and development of people suffering from autistic spectrum disorder (e.g., Asperger syndrome) is currently stabilizing but also still forming and developing. However, they still don’t reach the quality of service which is available in the highly developed countries.
There is a plenty of international studies, interventional programmes and supporting activities, which illustrate the positive influence of information technologies on the development of children and adolescents with autism. Some theories confirm the relationship between the intensity of autism and the specifics of the development and quality of congnitive / executive functions, the theory based on learning and neuropsychological principles (e.g., so called “mirror neurons”).
Mainly the children and adolescents diagnosed with the functional autistic spectrum disorder (e.g., Asperger syndrome) react very positively on information technologies. They are able to use the IT in their daily activities. Their reactions on IT environment is often more plausible than on the living objects.
In consequence, connecting a “living person” with IT can then enhance the social integration of autistic children and adults (at school, work, or generally in public) as well as increase the living standard (so called “well-being”).
NEWRON basic principles
The NEWRON software (newron.cz) is based on three main principles:
- Optimization of using IT for personal and social development (cognitive, executive and decision making functions; the availability to distinguish between different emotions, experience; identification and perception of own needs or needs of others; self-development – gaining the knowledge, developing the abilities and skills).
- Activation of motor functions related to the development of all neural abilities of the human brain (attention, sensors / sensitivity, will, social skills, …) which is generally the activation part of the human life (autistic children are generally less active and it is hard to motivate them to the activity).
- Consolidation of the social perception and social interactions under safer conditions which are “more safe” for autistic persons (i.e., “mediated via a monitor”).
First principle relates to the commonly accepted principle of neuroplasticity (and in the applied version also to the principles of general neurorehabilitation, cognitive training and other specific neuropsychological processes or interventional programmes). The NEWRON software consists of a set of games (model situations) which encourage the development of the neuropsychological functions (memory, attention, will, …). The content of the games was inspired by methodologies of the Association of persons after brain injuries and their families (CEREBRUM; www.cerebrum2007.cz), software tools Happy Neuron (www.happy-neuron.com), Lumosity (www.lumosity.com), CogniFit (www.cognifit.com) and NEUROP-III (www.neurop.de) method. There are more impulses for the further development of the software, such as some freely available online games (e.g., this link).
The second and third principle is primarily based on the possibilities of various input devices, which are using IT principles in combination with physical / motor activation of the user (MS Kinect, LeapMotion, etc.). These technologies also enable to involve more players at once (e.g., parents, siblings, schoolmates, teachers, etc.), which helps the individual players to be also socially active (assessment of the abilities and skills of players, the necessity to involve other player in order to continue with playing, the necessity to communicate the needs and ideas about the next development of the game, etc.).
The following video shows the usability of the Kinect device: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzfpXAbQ61U
NEWRON software will be continuously upgraded and inspired by the suggestions from the end users (autistic persons and their families, experts from schools, interventional institutions, public or research institutions, specialized corporations from the Czech Republic as well as abroad, etc.). For this purpose, we created these web pages (mainly the discussion) and we also prefer the close personal contact with the end users (APLA, schools, families, etc.).
The content of the NEWRON application is based on the specialized psychological background, which is guaranteed by the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University. The technological background is ensured by the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University.
How the NEWRON software can help
The basic principles of NEWRON are described above. Its main advantage is the possibility to maintain and develop the software continuously with respect to the latest research findings and the needs of end users. Currently, the first basic version of the NEWRON software is available and we are developing other modules and mini-games.
The software currently focuses on persons with autistic spectrum disorders. In the future, the software will be adapted to other “diagnoses” as well, such as ADD/ADHD, behavior and social adaptation disorders, specific learning disorders, dementia, after injury states, etc.
The NEWRON software was created within the public activities of the Masaryk University and it is based on the open-access principle. The other advantage is the “culture fair” principle – the use of software is independent to any language. Thus, the software can be easily used internationally.
The development is driven by researchers and students of the Masaryk University (Faculty of Informatics, Faculty of Arts). It ensures the stable and operative environment (connections to bachelor and diploma theses, research projects, foreign partner institutions, presentations on specialized workshops, conferences, etc.)
Goals we want to reach
Our aim is to create a freely available software tool which supports the natural abilities of mentally disabled persons, increases and stabilizes their well-being and enables their more natural social integration.
The secondary goal is to promote the common knowledge about the possibilities of effective usage or IT in common as well as specific situations in life. This relates to spreading the knowledge about specialized institutions and activities (educational systems, interventional programs, self-help groups, etc.) focused on different diagnoses (e.g., by using specialized workshops /www.sympozium.info/, presentations and articles in Masaryk University journals (veda.muni.cz, www.psychologon.cz) or public media (Czech Television, Czech Radio)).
Why in families, individual approach
Involving the families into the project is motivated mainly by the content of the software and its creation. It is based on an intensive research (clinical or qualitative type of research) where we want to reach maximally individual results. From this individual data, obtained from a small set of respondents, we can create>
/A/ follow-up extensive research (comparing large samples of the population, effects of the software, etc.), or
/B/ “only” continue in the current trend and intensify it by adding more individuals which will use the software (this will of course provide us with more inspiration and statistics).
Currently our intention is to follow the B option… however, the A option is also possible, when we reveal that the software works effectively).
Connection with the Association helping the autistic people (APLA) is a logic step with respect to the their mission:
“APLA Czech Republic joins and arches over publicly beneficial organizations (NGO). These organizations use processes and methods for working with persons who suffered from autistic spectrum disorders, which are widely accepted by the specialists. They are heading towards the therapeutic mainstream instead of focusing on alternative methods. The goal of APLA project is to promote such methods which follow the standards agreed by the executing board and guarantee the scientific approach to autism.”