We’re becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of autism in young children. Today, one in 54 kids has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which leads to differences in responsiveness to social, communicative, and behavioral cues.
Students with ASD can also experience symptoms that make learning difficult, especially in a traditional classroom setting. They must interact with their peers, follow instructions, and complete tasks without getting distracted by external stimuli.
Of course, achieving this level of focus and independence is much easier said than done, even for kids without ASD. However, incorporating assistive technology into the classroom can provide these students with an opportunity to take control of their education and engage with their peers and teachers.
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology includes digital and non-digital equipment, tools, and systems that can increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of people with learning challenges. These devices can be incredibly empowering for students with autism.
Here are a few ways educators might incorporate assistive technology to meet different learning needs and how doing so can encourage students with ASD to become more confident with learning.
1. Promote Organization
Students with autism often have a difficult time deviating from routines. However, they may also struggle to follow a written schedule, especially if they’re still learning to read. In this case, an organizational app might be helpful.
Create checklists, make an hourly schedule and organize daily activities within the app. With a tablet or smartphone, they can then carry this plan with them and make changes wherever they go. However, a paper planner that features pictures or drawings may also be effective.
2. Increase Verbal Skills
Some students with ASD might also struggle to verbally communicate their needs, which can cause them to fall behind in the classroom. Luckily, augmentative and alternative communication devices can assist children in relaying their thoughts and emotions.
These types of assistive technologies may include visual scene display apps or built-in digital cameras to simplify communication and help children with autism learn new language skills. Instead of using text to relay information, this technology uses photos, videos, and other visuals to provide context and eliminate the need to learn new letters or symbols.
3. Develop Social Skills
Many children with autism and related disorders have trouble reading facial expressions, expressing emotion, and interacting appropriately with their peers. However, various assistive technologies can promote interaction between students with autism by developing stronger social skills.
Strategies might include providing tape recorders and voice output devices or high-tech technologies like cameras and adaptive hardware. These tech tools will help students recognize nonverbal cues so they can listen and communicate effectively.
4. Boost Motivation
The techie nature of speech-generating devices and other digital assistants can encourage and empower students with ASD to use them more often. More importantly, they give students more choice in how, when, and where they learn. Access to assistive technology at home and school and being perceived as “cool” by peers can motivate kids to embrace and take charge of their education and academic success.
Boost motivation with voice-in-the-box devices, recordable strips, repetitive line books, and voice output communication aids. These technologies will give kids immediate auditory feedback to stimulate interest and encourage them to function more independently.
5. Improve Focus and Engagement
Assistive technology for students with autism may also include time management apps, digital reminders, and text-to-speech tools. These technologies can remind kids to focus on the task at hand and improve overall engagement at home and school.
FM systems, which use radio broadcast technology, can also help students stay engaged. They connect the teacher to the student through a microphone that transmits their voice directly to the child’s hearing aid. As a result, they can more easily listen to the instructor without battling external stimuli like crinkling paper and chattering classmates.
Making Progress Possible
Understanding how technology can support students with autism is essential for teachers and parents alike. With the help of assistive equipment, apps, and other digital advancements, students with ASD can feel empowered to take the initiative and responsibility for their education. More importantly, they’ll make real personal and academic progress so they can grow into capable, independent adults.
About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle and learning writer who talks about mental health, career development, and personal growth. Read more of her work on Classrooms, where she serves as Editor and contributing writer.
April Is Autism Acceptance Month
Bringing Awareness to the Challenges and Celebrating the Accomplishments and Inclusion of People with Autism in 2021
In 1972 the Autism Society of America launched the first National Autistic Children’s week, which evolved into Autism Awareness Month throughout April. This year, the Autism Society, with other leading disability organizations, has called for the change to Autism Acceptance Month for this annual observance.
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” says Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
For 2021, the theme of Acceptance Month is Celebrate Differences. “Designed to build a better awareness of the signs, symptoms, and realities of autism, #CelebrateDifferences focuses on providing information and resources for communities to be more aware of autism, promote acceptance, and be more inclusive in everyday life.”
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