Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to a broad range of conditions, often characterised by difficulties with social communication and interaction, and repetitive behaviour, routines and activities (NHS, 2019). School refusal behaviour is pervasive in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and research suggests that as many as 50 percent of students with autism spectrum disorders have school refusal behaviour (Munkhaugen, 2017). This article explains how a small school avatar is helping children on the autism spectrum with school.
Top grades from home
Eli Marte Rusten, a therapist working with children and young adults on the autism spectrum in Norway explains how one of the adolescents she has been working with hadn’t been in school for several years because he had a hard time dealing with the social aspects of it.
Eli Marte Rusten
Now he participates in class from home, through AV1, and receives top grades.
In the past, the boy became really frustrated when the teacher was strict with other students in the classroom, as he felt that it was directed towards him. However, when he attends class through AV1, it creates a necessary distance between him and what happens in the classroom, allowing him to concentrate on the curriculum and not everything else going on around him.
Eli Marte Rusten
I think the robot has great potential, especially among children with Aspergers. I personally only work with children where the level of emotional conflict with the school is very high, children who haven't been in school for years and who refuse to go to school.
Eli Marte says that she would like to see AV1 implemented at an early stage, before the child experiences a high level of emotional conflict with the idea of being in school.
She further says that it is important that the transition to using AV1 at school is well-prepared. She suggests the robot is gradually introduced, thoroughly tested and that the teachers and students in the class are well-informed.
School on their own terms
Schools in Finland and Sweden are also using AV1 for children on the autism spectrum. One of these children, Elias in the 2nd grade, has told regional newspaper, Vasabladet, about what he thinks of using AV1.
Elias, Av1 user
It’s cool, it feels like I’m in the classroom, although I’m not there. I can touch the screen and choose between different feelings like happy, sad, confused and neutral.
When Elias uses AV1, he sits in another room in the school and participates in classes through the avatar. It's then easier for him to concentrate on what the teacher is saying. Keijo Karvonen, teacher in special education, says
Keijo Karvonen, Teacher
It works really well, we can work undisturbed, in peace and quiet.
Stability through the avatar
“Lärarnas”, a magazine given out by the Swedish teachers union, writes about Camilla, a 5th grader, who changed from a large mainstream school to a specialised school for children on the autism spectrum. For Camilla, it was a big transition that caused stress, and she started finding it difficult to go to school.
In the spring of 2019, the school got an AV1 from the municipality and Camilla started attending classes through the robot in a room next to her classroom. Like Elias, Camilla also enjoys using the different facial expressions on AV1.
The other students in Camilla’s classroom have also tested how the robot works from Camilla’s side, so that they can feel safe and comfortable with its use.
Sara Lindbäck, Teacher
For a student that finds it hard to be in the classroom it's been great to be able to peek into the classroom through the robot
Early measures are needed and important
In 2018 the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration published a report of students who end up receiving social benefits. Children on the autism spectrum were top of the list, together with children with complex ADHD. Many are receiving social benefits as early as 19 or 20 years old. “We have a big challenge with capturing these students early on, and putting in place the right measure”, says a senior advisor in the Norwegian National Service for Special Needs Education.
- School refusal behavior is pervasive in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, aged 9–16 years.
- School refusal behaviour is equally common in primary and secondary students with autism disorder.
- Munkhaugen, E. K., Gjevik, E., Pripp, A. H., Sponheim, E., & Diseth, T. H. (2017). School refusal behaviour: Are children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder at a higher risk?. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 41, 31-38.
- NHS (2019). Overview, autism.
- Bredesen, A.M. og Kvilhaug, G. (2015). Tilbake til skolen. Statped.