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Can TypeWell Help Individuals with Autism?

It’s a well-established fact that TypeWell, CART and other speech-to-text services have been providing successful communication access to deaf/hard of hearing people for years. But recently several researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom have been looking into whether these same services can aid people who have no hearing loss, but who live along the autism spectrum. 

The concept is to remove distractions, clarify what is said and explain emotional content.

In an article appearing at Mindful Research, British writer, sign language interpreter and disability awareness specialist Judith Garman posits that speech-to-text might be very useful to this community.

Without getting into a lengthy definition of autism, she looks only at how autistic people function in society, and how their unique challenges can be addressed. 

For example, those with autism may be unable to understand humor or sarcasm, they may have trouble making sense of non-verbal communication involving emotions, and they can get confused by multiple speakers or ambient noise.  All these situations may arise in classrooms or while watching TV.  

While many autistic people have a high IQ, it is their inability to focus on these specialized types of communication that can complicate their lives. 

How Could TypeWell Help?

A trained TypeWell provider would typically transcribe an exchange between two people like this: 

Male speaker: You shouldn’t have done that. 

Female speaker: Why not? I didn’t do anything wrong.

For an autistic consumer, however, a transcriber could modify the transcript to better meet the consumer’s communicative needs.  

For example, the transcriber could evaluate the emotional context of the exchange in order to include additional information:

Male speaker: You shouldn’t have done that. [Angry]

Female speaker: Why not? I didn’t do anything wrong. [Embarrassed]

For autistic consumers, the addition of emotional “clues” could be especially helpful for deciphering more complex emotions, which aren’t necessarily associated with visually perceptible facial expressions or behaviors.

Nine thousand miles from Great Britain, a pilot study has been undertaken at the University of Melbourne (Australia) to see if speech-to-text can really help those with autism. According to the Web site Global Research in Autism and Neurodevelopment, a partnership has been established between the university and Ai Media, another Australian firm. The latter offers CART and re-voicing services. 

While many people with autism have a high IQ, it is their inability to focus on certain types of communication that can complicate their lives.

Regardless of the type of service, in the experimental classroom complex forms of speech are removed during transcription and abstract terms are made clearer to aid in comprehension. Teacher talk is reduced to a series of bullet points because the hypothesis is that students will be able to scroll back quickly to refresh their memories. The subjects for this study include children on the autism spectrum and those affected by epilepsy who have similar cognitive problems. 

The concept is to remove distractions, clarify what is said and explain emotional content so that it is easily understood by those whose comprehension is not the same as those who are typically developing. 

As to whether speech-to-text can eventually help those with autism, it’s too early to tell. But if these studies show promise, this can be a new area opportunity for TypeWell providers. Additional links are listed below. 

Social model of disability:


Statistics: how many people have autistic spectrum disorders?

photo credits:   Putting the Puzzle Together via Photopin (license)


Ken Deutsch

Ken Deutsch has been a TypeWell transcriber since 2007 and additionally administers the Comprehensive Skill Check to TypeWell's Basic Skills Course candidates.

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