To celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, the University is launching a free, four week online course in both English and Mandarin, aimed at improving the support available for autistic children in the UK and China.

The course was run for the first time in 2017 and was taken by over 5,000 people. It has recently been rated the third best autism course in the world. The course has since been updated for 2018 and has also been translated into Mandarin enabling the course to run in China for the first time.

Designed to equip carers and practitioners with skills and new ideas that can be used to help young people living with autism, the MOOC (massive, open, online course) ‘SMART-ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources’ is the latest from the University, delivered in association with partners FutureLearn.

Drawing on the expertise from the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR) within the Department of Psychology, the course explores how new apps can best support autistic children, with or without learning difficulties. It is designed to help carers and practitioners with skills and new ideas to help young people living with autism.

Raising awareness of autism

According to the National Autistic Society, autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – more than 1 in 100. Estimates of the prevalence of autism in China are very varied, but 1 in 100 would equate to more than 14 million people.

As well as increasing awareness, the MOOC will help direct people to solutions and advice for those interacting with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with or without associated learning difficulties. Significantly, this includes introducing parents and teachers to the free 'SMART-ASD' app that helps assess the needs of autistic children and to identify the most suitable technology to assist their individual requirements.

Director of the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR), Professor Mark Brosnan, explained: “The online course is ideal for anyone who has a family member with autism or works with someone with autism – whatever the level of prior experience.

“The issue today is not the lack of digital technologies offering support for autistic people, but how to find the best match between the person’s needs and capabilities with the available technological solutions.

“We are very pleased to be able to extend the online course to China where there is a real need for easily accessible information about autism and how it can be best supported."

Chinese partner, Professor Jing Shi, Associate Professor at Guangzhou University of Foreign Studies, added: “For children on the spectrum, one of their biggest strengths is visual learning. Many of them have a real strengths when working with technology. Our SMART-ASD MOOC is trying to identify the most efficient and novel technology tools that can be used to support their learning, utilising their visual learning strengths, overcoming many learning barriers, and helping them learn more effectively.

“We hope that this MOOC is able to help both parents and teachers to provide better support, and help our children to feel less lonely when trying to gain new knowledge. We hope this helps them unleash their full potential.”

The completely free MOOC - 'SMART-ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources' - is available in English and Mandarin.