Games for students with Autism as an effective Methodology in Education for the development of Social Skills
Project Code: KA220-SCH-FE9F8CB9
Different research studies (Courtenay y Perera, 2020; Amaral, de Vries, 2020; Ameis et al., 2020) show the negative effects COVID19 is bringing up for autistic people, in areas such as physical and emotional health, employment, family context, and the risk of loss of social skills and development setbacks. Therefore, it is urgent to address the need of designing /reinventing educational services delivery using on line/virtual tools. First observations (Narzisi, 2020) on already developed online attention initiatives, showed up that communication and cognitive difficulties of people with greater support needs, is an extra barrier towards an effective online support implementation.
These barriers in accessing digital technologies are mainly caused by a lack of accessible tools; lack of competences (teachers, people with disabilities and their families); poorly adapted educational methodologies; and few technological resources. More specifically, digital tools are often designed for the general population without taking into account the needs of autistic people with lower cognitive levels (levels 1 and 2, according to the American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Tools adapted to the cognitive needs of such individuals through the incorporation of easily readable texts, and use of pictograms and graphic resources are strongly required.
Such needs are similar to in relation to training, capacity building and online care methodologies. Another important obstacle is the lack of skills for the use and management of digital technologies by the professionals who attend them, for which adapted training is also required. In this sense, autistic people with lower cognitive levels need to improve their digital skills in order to bridge this gap and successfully use digital resources and technologies. Likewise, support and training for families is also essential. In addition, many autistic people and their families lack from the technological resources to autonomously access digital services such as online training and care.
The GAMESS project is in line with the Decree-Law No. 3/2008 and the goals of special education in Denmark. Since 1993, public schools in Denmark, Folkeskolen, have been obliged to differentiate education according to students’ needs in general and not by transferring students to special needs education. However, the development has shown that there is a need for tools to help schools to engage with ordinary teaching to really differentiate the use of methods, educational materials and curricula for students with differences in development, abilities, language and culture. Similarly, in Finland, inclusion is the official educational policy, and since 2018, a new systematic way of organizing support, a socalled three-tiered support model, has been implemented. Rehabilitation and new technology give more opportunities for early rehabilitation and Finland puts attention for new possibilities.
For CZA and Miradas organisations, actively working with children with autism, the main motivation to join this project is related to the need to improve quality of life of their students with ASD and fulfil one of the rights from Convention on the Rights of the Child which is related to achieving fullest possible social integration and individual development. STANDO offers teacher trainings to teachers from all over Europe, therefore, this project will help them to bring together the skills of such a diverse set of partners in creating new curricula and expanding their training offer. At the same time, through an exchange of good practices and ideas they will gain valuable knowledge and experiences which will not only contribute to the personal and professional development of their staff, but also to the creation of an innovative and comprehensive training package
One of the characteristics of children with ASD, ADHD, learning disabilities and other neurodevelopmental disorders is social skills deficiency. Given the idiosyncratic difficulties in the social and emotional understanding of pupils with ASD, teachers may face considerable difficulties in managing their needs, thereby affecting the quality of the teachers’ relationship with these pupils (Emam and Farrell, 2009). Within this context, and considering how important learning social skills from an early age is, and the challenges teachers can face, we propose a project with target group general pre-school /primary school teachers that have in their mainstream classes children with ASD, with the following objectives:
It will be generated by all partners under the guidance of the curriculum design experts within the consortium. It will result in a Social Skills curriculum addressed to primary school teachers working with children with ASD in the mainstream classroom. It aims to serve as the base for teachers who want to teach social skills to their students with ASD.
It will increase the teachers’ skills and competencies according to the specific requirements of the project. Taking into consideration:
a) the challenges children with autism face in the mainstream classroom and in the school environment in general
b) the social skills children with autism usually lack (i.e communication skills)
c) the absence of comprehensive training curricula that will focus on the professional development of teachers in social skills. We consider that this training curriculum will bridge the gap between theory and praxis since practically it will familiarise the teachers with the GAMESS package (VR Game & Group games Booklet)
The curriculum will be an invaluable source that will support teachers when teaching social skills to their students with autism and will result in students’ improved school life and integration into the wider community.
The VR game will be designed, having in mind the social skills curriculum (IO1) and the characteristics of children with ASD and will aim at teaching them social skills. The VR Game can be transferred to organisations beyond the GAMESS partners and to a range of sectors not necessarily addressed in this project. The VR game will be a multiplayer game, simulating the classroom, with different levels to improve social skills. Gameplay will be focused on simple collaborative learning activities that are already part of the school curriculum and from the social skills curriculum (IO1). The collaborative learning activities from major subjects will be defined in co-creation with pre-school and
In the first level, there will be just one player: the ASD children. In the second level: two players, one ASD children and a personification of the teacher (avatar) in the scenario. The avatar engages a conversation explaining the social skills to fulfil the collaborative activity. Third level: two or more students will be playing the VR game with the same avatar from the previous level. The VR setting will be designed in Unity 3D and the avatars using iClone 7. The immersive experience will take place through an HTC VR with VR analytics. Since one outstanding behavior of ASD patients is the avoidance of eye contact, we are going to use a VR device with an eye tracker to evaluate fixation and saccades. The device will be a VR helmet with eye tracker to assess the ocular behavior of ASD patients.
Booklet for primary school teachers. This Booklet will be a
collection of group games, which teachers can use to teach through interactive activities in real-life settings social skills to young students with autism. This booklet will solve the problem educators often facelack
of adequate educational material to teach social skills. According to the social skills that will be decided to be targeted by the consortium, the booklet will be developed containing the theory behind group games learning, and then guidelines (illustrated if needed) to walk teachers through setting up each game, facilitating it, and debriefing participants. Users will find games that are suitable for a variety of audiences. Various methods and approaches will be followed, such as debates, role-play games in real-world settings, systems-thinking, strategic exercises, having the potential to help participants understand by doing in a fun and motivating way. Basically, the aim of the group games booklet is to help young children with autism acquire social skills in question by practicing them in real-life-like settings. The innovative nature of the booklet lies in the fact that no booklet of Group classroom games for social skills, specially designed for children with ASD, who are the final beneficiaries of the learning process, has been published so far.
One training activity for teachers (3 from each country +another 3 at local level) and therefore, at least 18 teachers trained to use GBL (including VR technology) to teach social skills to children with ASD in the mainstream classroom. This training activity will have a dual scope:
1. To increase the range of teaching skills of the teachers, specifically needed to teach social skills to young children with ASD (but also their neurotypical peers) through games. Therefore, the training will facilitate in the long run, the improvement of social skills among young students with ASD to help them get integrated into the school environment and later on in society. These skills are not usually taught explicitly in schools, despite the fact that a lot of children with ASD struggle with social interactions. From this point of view, at the end of the course, the participants will:
2. To pilot-test the effectiveness of the developed materials against a group of teachers who have the ability to provide a critical view over the documentation and identify possible gaps or difficulties in its application to students with ASD, from different countries or specialisations. Finally, it will encourage the participants to develop non-formal education materials related to topics addressed. The training course will be developed in workshops in two different stages: