Sunday, December 14, 2014

Processing Pow - an App Review: How Do Students with Autism Process Language?

ASD is a neurodevelopment disorder.  It’s wonderful just how far we have come in discovering what autism is and is not, and how it impacts those who have it.   When I first started working with kids with autism back in the 1970’s autism was still considered childhood schizophrenia.  When I first thought about changing my graduate pursuit from psychology to special education (no, I did not always want to be a SLP) there were only 5 graduate programs in the country with a specialty in emotional disturbances, into which autism was lumped.
Now we know a lot more about it as a developmental disorder, and we’re learning more each day about possible genetic components, brain chemistry differences, and more.  Part of what we now know is that there are differences in how the autistic brain works.  These differences show up as observable differences with language and communication and other social behaviors.

One of those differences is in how the brain is able - or not - to marshall attentional resources to sort out all of the incoming stimuli to determine which are important.  The brains of kids with autism can’t automatically sort and differentiate the important stimuli; their brains are missing this ability. So, processing what is coming at them becomes very very difficult.  In particular, they cannot preferentially process human speech.  They have difficulty separating out the words from environmental sounds.  They don’t know where the word boundaries are, and which sounds should make sense.
So, we know we cannot change their brains.  What we can change is their environment. How we support them, what we do to create an environment in which they can cope and learn.
What does this have to do with an iPad app, you ask?  Well, recently I was given a promo code to try out the iOS app Processing Pow  from PocketSLP.  This company has a variety of apps for speech and language; including specific speech production apps, some story book apps, and a couple that focus on language concepts. 



I spent 8 years working in a school district with kids with significant language learning disabilities who were in separate language-based classrooms.  I provided direct therapy services and co-taught with teachers.  I was also, for a number of years, the primary diagnostician for the district; that is, I administered all speech-language evaluations.   I can tell you how striking the difference can be if you are testing a student with processing issues in a quiet environment (I almost never had that luxury) or in a noisy one.  
I also provided intervention for that district’s classes for kids with developmental disorders.  Another group who present with a spectrum of language issues. 
So, where am I going with this?  I really like the concept of Processing Pow.  The app provides multiple levels of language input, from single words through 2 & 3 word phrases, longer phrases and sentences.  And it allows the user to control whether or not there is competing noise, for how long, and at what volume.  This gives the SLP a lot of control in both assessing and intervening with language processing.
The student listens to the auditory cue at the determined level and is given a choice of 4 pictures to identify what has been heard.  There is also a barrier game, where the student is given a scenes and directions to move items within the scene.  At the end there is a check to see if the user’s scene matches the app’s.   This is a great activity for processing skills.  I love barrier activities.  If you’ve seen my TeachersPayTeachers store you already know this, as I have quite a range of barrier games and activities; including these:
a bundle of my first 5 barrier games; which includes fun build-a-robot and build-a-face activities, and some thematic barrier games for pirates, princesses, Fall and Winter, and Halloween.






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