Special Education and ICTs

Gurcharan Singh
Recent development in special education includes the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to assist students during their lifetime. ICT is now also recognized as a tool which ensures access to knowledge and learning resources. In this paper we present an overview of the most representative studies of the last decade (2010-2020) which deal with the two important issues in the field of special education, diagnosis and intervention.
One important advantage of these tools is that they can be employed by teachers and parents as well, to adapt education to the needs and abilities of pupils. The studies chosen will be classified according to the areas of needs they serve. Rapid developments in information technology have dramatically changed the living conditions for many people during the past decades. The term Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is a general term which refers to all kinds of technologies that enable users to access and manipulate information. ICTs have been widely studied in a large number of fields as well as being a subject of study in its own right. One of the several fields that gathered accumulative evidence around it is the use of technology in education. The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ refers to all types of difficulties that can cause problems during the learning process. However, there have been observed various terms amongst countries due to differences in culture, language and ethnicity. Across all types of special educational needs there are also differences in the research methods used. There are models which emphasize needs within the person from a medical, educational or psychological perspective. Our scoping study drew upon national and international publications, research findings and decided to use the following categorization. ‘The areas of needs’ are: 1. Communication Interaction, Sensory and/or Physical, Cognition and Learning, 3 Behaviour and 4. Emotional and Social Development
Special Educational needs vary in the degree to which they affect a person’s learning. They can be long-lasting or short term. There are individuals who quite frequently have more than one form of difficulties. It is then necessary to create environments where learners with varying diversities and abilities have the opportunity to meet and develop. A growing field of research indicated the need to expand the use of ICT in school, home social and/or virtual community. Most of these studies clearly agree that the use of ICT can give people with disabilities equal opportunities in learning and facilitate daily life, maximize their independence and promote self-advocacy. The integration of ICTs in special education deals with several issues such as assistive or enabling technology, internet applications, augmentative communication systems, adaptive devices. This paper will focus on some of the most representative studies which introduce software applications programs for diagnosis and intervention purposes of specific difficulties. Most of the time these procedures are complicated, need a lot of effort, attention, patience and above all require persons well-qualified and with responsibility. During the last decade, much of the research on learning with ICTs deals with different types of diagnostic and intervention tools which can be used not only from specialists such as doctors, but also from teachers, special educators and parents. The first one includes diagnostic and intervention tools regarding people with sensory and physical impairments (visually impaired learners, deaf and hearing impaired learners, learners with motor impairments) while the next one includes the major domains of learning difficulties.
Visually Impaired Learners: According to the World Health Organization, about 314 million individuals are visually impaired worldwide. Increasing numbers of individuals with a visual impairment are using technology to access information. The research field about ICT assessment regarding visually impaired people is very limited due to the fact that vision tests are procedures conducted almost exclusively from doctors. In addition, it is difficult for a practitioner or an educator to implement assessment tests because of the lack of equipment and lack of training. To help visually impaired students a large number of ICTs have been developed to facilitate learning process and their everyday life.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Learners: Hearing problems also affect an amount of the special educational needs population. Hearing loss symptoms often vary and sometimes occur gradually so the learners do not realize it is happening. Computer-based audiometry is a field with accumulative research around it. In addition, ICT intervention and support for students with hearing problems is of major significance because they have equal access to knowledge and learning resources.
Learners with Motor Impairments: Opportunities for students with physical disabilities to participate in school or home settings have been the focus of many studies of ICT use. For this group of learners in order to access utilities software, it is often necessary the use of assistive devices such as touch screens, tracker-balls, joysticks, keyboards and mouse alternatives. Students with motor disabilities have different capabilities and needs. ICT could play an essential role as an inclusion tool in the school. In order for an ICT intervention tool to be effective it is always best to discuss before implementing any adaptations to practice. One category within the group of ‘Developmental Disorders’ is known as Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). ASD is a set of developmental problems that affect the social and communication skills. Today as a result of research the use of ICTs has gathered accumulative evidence around it. The diagnosis of autism or the rest of the ASD is in most of the times a result of the several traditional assessment tests that are available to professionals.
Learners with Reading and Writing Difficulties: Proficient reading and writing is one of the major tasks a young learner will achieve in his or her lifetime. It is a process that depends upon a wide range of component skills and needs several years to master fully. A large number of researches support that pre-reader’s knowledge of the alphabet is an important predictor of later reading success. This why an early identification of these difficulties is of major importance in order to use later the appropriate intervention methods that will help the child overcome his or her difficulties. Accumulative research has also focused on several software applications concerning the intervention of the various reading and writing difficulties. One of the most widely used software tools is the Cognitive Profiling System (CoPS), a computerized psychometric assessment system which identifies the cognitive strengths and difficulties for ages 4-8.
Dyslexic Learners: One of the most common and most studied types of Developmental Disorders is the difficulty in reading as well as in spelling and writing, known as dyslexia. The Code of Practice highlights the importance of an evidence-based diagnosis and provides also the framework for all the professionals to examine and identify students’ needs through the use of assessment tools. Recently, the use of technology provides school staff the opportunity to engage in identifying and in overcoming dyslexia with saving in time and labour.
Learners with Difficulties in Memory: Memory consists of abilities such as receiving and processing of received information, creation of a permanent record of the encoded information and calling back the stored information. Memory skills of children with special needs have been a domain of great research for professionals over the latest years. There is evidence that shows that poor memory skills characterize children failing to progress normally in different areas of needs.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Learners: Learners with ADHD or ADD are usually characterized by a set of behaviour problems (abnormal levels of inattention, hyperactivity or their combination) that are remarkably stable over time. Research in the field of diagnosis and intervention has improved the ways and the various instruments that are now used.
(The author is Lecturer in Computer Science District Institute of Education & Trainings, Samba, J&K UT)