The time has come when I am beginning to turn my attention to thinking about what projects I’ll be engaged in after the Click-East study comes to an end in July 2013. Luckily, since starting the project, I have been fortunate enough to secure a long-term position here at the University of Edinburgh, so for the first time in my career my own wages are not at stake. But I will still need to find external funding sources for any research projects I want to do in the future.
I have two significant motivations at the moment, which are guiding my quest for grant income. First, I am really proud of the FindMe app (and there’ll be an update on that coming soon on this blog). I think it has some great autism-specific features and it is still a rare example of an app which attempts to target the core skills which we believe provide a foundation for social and communication development. Lots of apps are available to help manage what’s on the surface – challenging behaviours, lack of language – but not so many go underneath that. Think of it like giving a guy a fish to eat, versus giving a guy a fishing rod so he can catch his own supper. So grant application number one will be for some funding to try to create some more apps, all targeting the core difficulties of autism, and sharing a series of autism-specific features. We hope we’ll be able to do this in partnership with our amazing friends at Interface 3.
The second motivation is to do with the number of parents, and also teachers and therapists who come to me for advice on how to choose technology and specific apps for their children with autism, or related social communication difficulties. People want to know whether to buy an iPad or a cheaper Android tablet. They want me to recommend specific apps and give an expert opinion on which is best. And they want advice on how to manage access to technology on a practical level – how much time playing games is OK? How do we make sure he doesn’t accidentally see something inappropriate on You Tube? Do I need to sit with her while she plays an app? Now, to an extent, I’ll never be able to do this because whether you buy an iPad or a Galaxy tablet, for example, will depend partly on your personal budget, as well as on what else you want to use it for. Likewise, I might admire certain apps but that doesn’t mean they’ll be useful for your son or daughter. Nevertheless, I really want to be able to provide some kind of useful guidance for the autism community – specifically for people whose children or pupils are severely affected, pre-verbal or non-verbal and who need to make decisions on their behalf.
So with some colleagues at the University of Edinburgh I’m hoping to go for an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) transformative research grant. This is a new funding scheme, which is looking at supporting original research which crosses disciplinary boundaries. I hope we can combine expertise from Psychology, Education and Informatics to get funding to answer questions like:
- how do children with autism interact with technology at home?
- what are the characteristics of the best technologies for autism?
- how can we match specific technologies to specific needs?
I’d also like to incorporate an “app review” which looks at all the autism-specific and autism-relevant apps available, on both Apple and Android platforms, and gives each one a score on various relevant dimensions. Hopefully this would be really helpful for people working out what kind of device to buy, and what apps to load on to it.
I’ll be writing these two grant applications over the next couple of months, so wish me luck and hopefully I’ll be able to post that I’ve received some funding in a few months’ time – crossed fingers!