The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—and that number is on the rise. It is considered a spectrum disorder because it presents a range of challenges and impairments. For example, some students with autism have strong verbal communication skills while others (as many as 20-30%) are almost entirely non-verbal, unable to communicate basic needs and wants.
There was a time when children with autism could be trapped in their own silent world, struggling to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs to those around them. Today, with assistive communication devices, language acquisition apps, and other innovative EdTech, students with autism are finding more success in the classroom and other social settings. Having technology available to them—and to the parents and educators who work with them—gives these children access to the full range of communication options they need and deserve.
Using EdTech to Address Common Educational Concerns for Students With Autism
This increasingly prevalent diagnosis places an urgent responsibility on educators to seek new methods and tools to assist students with autism in the classroom, maximizing their learning experience. Educational technology is making that a possibility. Teachers and students now have devices, software, and apps that help to decrease some challenges and to completely overcome others.
Consider these common challenges that students with autism face—and how educational technology can decrease frustration and increase success both in and beyond the classroom.
Auditory Processing Difficulties
It is common for those with ASD to have difficulty regulating auditory stimuli. For some, the world can seem like a loud noise machine with the volume turned all the way up. Many are oversensitive to noise and cannot pick and choose which sounds to focus on and which to drown out. Students with autism may experience all sounds simultaneously and at the same intensity, which can literally hurt and cause distress. High frequencies can also cause overstimulation.
With computers, sound as well as voice and decibel levels can be adjusted to meet the needs of an individual with ASD to help avoid anxiety and overstimulation from auditory stimuli. Apps like Noise Down or Too Noisy Pro activate when noise levels become too loud or high. The reminder cues those around (especially in a classroom setting) to lower their noise level. By regulating environmental noise, technology helps reduce stress and anxiety for students with autism, making them more at ease in group and social settings.
Or, with an interactive, multi-touch display as your classroom hub, students with sensory sensitivities can engage with the lesson directly from their personal devices with headphones to block out noise and other distractions while they work.
Visual Processing and Sequencing
Many students on the autism spectrum struggle with skills like sequencing, organizing, and prioritizing, which can make managing daily routines, schedules, and responsibilities stressful. Educational technology can address these struggles in multiple ways. Visual sequencing programs can play to students’ strengths to think and organize in pictures while also reducing or chunking tasks to make a sequence more manageable.
Other programs and devices can provide calendars, written as well as voiced lists and tasks, alerts and alarms that serve as reminders, and color coding to help with prioritizing. There are apps like Sequencing Tasks: Life Skills that can aid in developing and managing these skills by breaking down tasks into pictures which can be arranged in chronological order.
Using a large, crystal-clear HD display to present lessons and enable classroom interaction can also help all students become better visual processors. Plus, our educational software suite includes Snowflake Multiteach, a program that includes many built-in sequencing games and lesson plans.
Recent studies have found that nearly 65% of children with autism also show signs of apraxia of speech, a neurological condition interfering with the motor skills necessary for mastering speech. This is only one manifestation of nonverbal autism; there are myriad other complications that can result in a child with ASD not speaking or not speaking well.
Because those with autism spectrum disorder can more readily process and understand visual input, parents and teachers can equip these children with tablets such as iPad, Android, or Kindle devices. Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools, which generate speech through the use of pictures associated with words. work particularly well on tablets. These programs make speech communication a bigger reality for children with ASD who struggle with spoken language.
The best scenario for students with autism is learning in a one-to-one school district that also provides every classroom with an interactive display. This allows students with autism to wirelessly connect to the panel and interact with the learning experience directly from their personal devices. When they have assistive tools, students with autism are far more likely to express themselves, try new things, and communicate with teachers and classmates.
Fine Motor Skills
Handwriting and other tasks that require mastery of fine motor skills are sometimes incredibly difficult for students with autism. These activities can quickly become sources of frustration and impediments to learning. An otherwise highly intelligent learner may struggle to succeed on assignments requiring extensive handwriting, leading to avoidable academic underachievement.
Devices with touch screens and voice activated technology help students overcome these challenges so that they experience the level of educational success they deserve. For example, Clear Touch Interactive displays feature an intuitive, smooth-glide surface that responds to touch in milliseconds, helping students develop both gross and fine motor skills. Students can practice their fine motor skills through movements such as drag-and-drop, swiping, tracing letters, pinch to zoom, and much more. Our software also includes a handwriting to type feature that makes it easier for students with fine motor delays to communicate through writing.
It is commonly known that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder may struggle with social interaction. Delayed communication and sensory processing can make socializing more difficult, and the complex and nuanced skills necessary for successful social engagement can be overwhelming. Attention and timing, recognizing facial and other social cues, regulating sensory input—all of these play a part in creating rewarding social relationships. These are all areas that also create challenges for children with ASD. These difficulties can show up as deficits in children who are on the nonverbal spectrum or as an excess for a highly verbal child with Asperger’s Syndrome—in which case interactions are often one-sided.
In both cases, children can learn and improve social skills when the proper coaching and tools are made accessible. An indirect benefit of the EdTech tools and programs we have already mentioned is increased confidence that comes with success in the learning environment. Confidence naturally supports improved social interaction. In addition, there are programs and apps, like Social Stories, designed to specifically target and improve skills needed for successful social interaction.
Research also indicates that older students with ASD are more likely to pursue college majors and careers in STEM fields. The Los Angeles-based STEM3 Academy offers students with ASD and other learning challenges a rich STEM-based curriculum to capitalize on their natural strengths in order to build a positive, rewarding learning experience. Students are able to collaborate on projects through the use of technology in a flipped classroom, using computer-aided design programs, 3D printers, and robotics. The natural collaboration builds fluency in social skills that transcend the classroom and help improve relationships with parents and others.
While it is exciting to consider all of the tools and technology available to boost confidence and success for the learner with ASD, it is the long-term goal of all of these things to increase life-long success for students that extends far beyond the classroom years.
When we give these students access to the education they deserve, we equip them with numerous skills that help them function more independently as adults. We increase their odds of finding and keeping good jobs, and we help them have richer relationships with friends and loved ones. Life gets better for these students when they have access to the educational tools they need for success.
While Clear Touch Interactive® displays for education are not ADA compliant and do not qualify as augmentative and alternative communication tools per se, they can be incredibly useful for teachers who work with kids on the autism spectrum in a number of ways. Key features such as 20 points of intuitive touch and wireless screen sharing allow students with sensory processing and communication difficulties to connect to the lesson from their personal devices. Students can also communicate through visual cues, learn sequencing through game-based learning, practice handwriting and work on other fine motor skills.