There is no doubt in the minds of any teachers at Blomfield Special School and Resource Centre in Whangarei that digital technology is proving to have significant benefits for the students involved in Project DISE.
“There is no doubt that it (digital technology) works,” says IT teacher, Brian Baynham.
The first desensitisation and socialisation DVDs have produced tangible evidence that digital technology can help students to change and improve their behaviour, while digital diaries are an outstanding way to capture a student’s progress.
Desensitisation DVDs are designed to familiarise a student with an unknown or overwhelming situation while socialisation DVDs are used to teach socially acceptable behaviour.
The first desensitisation DVD was tailor-made for a hearing-impaired autistic student who was fearful of visiting the ear caravan and was becoming more unmanageable with each visit.
The DVD was filmed to show the process of visiting the ear caravan, undergoing an ear examination, and who he could expect to meet on his visit. Over an eight week period the student watched the DVD regularly and “almost began to enjoy it.”
Brian says the DVD worked well and the subsequent visit to the caravan went off virtually incident free.
“His behaviour was vastly improved. Usually three people are required to hold him down but we didn’t need to do that this time. The nurse and teacher just think it was brilliant.”
However, the student still displayed flashes of anger, which prevented a full ear examination and Brian attributes this to the subtle differences between the DVD and actual appointment on the day.
“The caravan was parked in a different spot to where it was in the DVD and the nurse was different too.”
Nonetheless, Brian says the DVD has paved the way for more desensitisation DVDs, including one on being X-rayed and visiting the dentist.
The socialisation DVD of going to a café was filmed at a local café using the student for whom it is intended as the model, the DVD was edited to show the student socially interacting and responding in an appropriate manner.
Regularly watched by the student, it has worked well too, with the student no longer requiring prompts from teachers to do such things as remembering to wipe her mouth after each sip of coffee.
“When we were debating how to measure changes it was decided that a reduced need for prompts would be one of them and this girl now is initiating her own behaviour and is relying far less on prompts.”
The true test of the DVD’s success will be when the student returns to be filmed at the local café again. Staff will then compare the original unedited footage with the new footage to assess how well the socialisation DVD worked.
The technology is also being used to create digital diaries for nine students with the purpose of providing a visual record of the improvements or development of young physically and/or intellectually disabled students.
Students are individually filmed each term performing the same task, such as doing a jigsaw or stacking blocks. The video is assessed by staff to gauge the student’s progression over the year.
The digital diaries will be given to parents at the end of the year and have the dual purpose of providing parents with a record of their child’s progress and tips and ideas on how to challenge and stimulate their child when they’re not at school.
Brian says the digital technology has been a wonderful addition to the school and has given the staff the capability to put on film what they can’t put into words.
“Sometimes you can’t describe the tiny changes but we can do it on film.”
And those tiny changes can make all the difference to the quality of a special needs child’s life.