ENHANCING YOUNG CHILDREN’S WITH AUTISM SOCIAL INTERACTION AND TASK PERFORMANCE THROUGH VISUAL ARTS, USING IPAD APPLICATIONS IN THE FORM OF A DIGITAL STORYTELLING
The lack of effective inclusion for children with autism, in mainstream reception units in Greece, is accompanied by a deficiency in effective curriculum guidelines and collaboration between generalist and special education teachers. In the classroom, the generalist teachers occupy normal developing children with activities that fit in scope of combined learning themes, including expression and creation, while the special education teachers follow an individualised educational programme with each autistic child. Additionally, visual art lessons in reception units tend to focus on the individual child experimenting with different art media. The lack of structured joint activities impedes children with autism to develop their social interactions. Some scholars have recommended the modification of mainstream art activities, in order to facilitate reciprocal interactions among children with autism, their peers and teachers. Yet, the limited number of studies in this field stimulated this research about the potential of visual art education and technology in teaching young children with autism.
This research developed, implemented and evaluated the effectiveness of a visual arts-based intervention for children with autism, aged 4 to 7 years, within an inclusive reception unit in Greece. The investigation inquires into whether or not the use of an iPad within the visual arts teaching process, in the form of a digital storytelling, improves social interactions with non-disabled peers and teachers and enhances task participation.
The project’s scope is qualitative in nature and takes the form of action research within separate research cycles. The researcher, a head teacher and two teachers, qualified in special education needs and early years, collaboratively defined the problem, planed the solution, acted, observed and reflected upon further development. In this pilot research cycle, the researcher developed and implemented a formative visual arts based intervention that included four sessions, tailored to the needs of children with autism and their peers. The formative implementation of the visual arts based intervention was taught by the researcher to the first group of children (one child with autism and four normally developing peers). The data collection instruments were researcher observation, an observation list and video recording of each session with two static cameras.
Results revealed that inclusion of iPad within a visual arts teaching process, in the form of digital storytelling and stop-motion animation, enhances autistic children task participation and spontaneous interaction with both peers and teachers. Ongoing development of this visual arts based intervention on a larger sample of autistic children aims to test how they further improve social skills and share enjoyment with peers.