A research centre has been set up at the University of Teesside to develop new ways of helping people with learning difficulties by using sophisticated computer technology.
Researchers at the special needs computing centre will work with people with all types of mental, sensory and physical disabilities. Most of the centre's work will focus on helping children with autism, language disorders or hearing loss.
Stephen Green, head of the centre, says that multimedia technology will be exploited to support graphics-based software, complete with sound, to expand the use of computational linguistics for people with language difficulties, such as the deaf and mentally handicapped.
He says that another project aims to exploit neural networks. These are computer programs that attempt to simulate the connections within the working brain. Their use could help in the diagnosis and classification of people with autism. The study involves the use of information gathered from local and national surveys of children with autism, their parent and siblings.
Other initiatives at the facility, which is part of the institution's visualisation and interactive systems research centre, includes a project by researcher Elaine Pearson investigating computer presentation of language and reading schemes. The work could result in powerful techniques for assessing and remedying specific language disorders in children.
Dr Green says that the team of researchers had demonstrated the benefits of using computers to teach children with special educational needs. He beleives that computers can allow the partial withdrawal of adult supervision and control.