Jessica is five years old and has just begun school in regional South Australia. She’s also just been diagnosed with Attention Deficits Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which explains why she seems to act out so much, can’t seem to stay focused on any one thing and why she might be struggling to keep up in class, since life is actually so much harder for her compared to her friends.
So, what now?
The goal of a teacher is to teach their students the best they can. To achieve this goal, educators need to be adaptive. This is because, of course, each student is an individual. As such, they learn differently and have different needs.
Students that place on the autism spectrum have certain difficulties that need to be addressed by educators. Luckily, with the numerous technology innovations that the modern era has brought us offers plenty of opportunities for educators and students with autism alike.
To understand which technologies help students with autism and how they help, it’s first important to understand what autism is. You have to understand what difficulties an autistic student faces in a classroom to be able to address them.
According to the American Psychological Association, autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is recognised by social and communication impairments as well as restrictive and repetitive patterns in their behaviours, interests, and activities.
The full title autism spectrum disorder should be noted as well. This means that even if you have a pair of students with autism, they might present very differently. The goal of technology is to help make the learning process helpful to all students.
The Diagnostic Center Central has said that as many as 50% of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are non-verbal. Many others struggle with communication and are limited verbally. This can make simple learning processes in a traditional classroom setting more difficult. For instance, how does a student join in a class discussion when they aren’t verbal?
This is where visual scene displays can come in handy. These can be found in the form of mobile apps most often, making them easy to weave into the classroom.
This type of technology allows students to put their answers and join in the discussion via an art scene. This way, students can join in without being limited by the struggle with speech.
On the note of autistic students and visuals, it can also be helpful to add graphics to classroom assignments. These can be much easier to process for these students rather than a page of written instructions.
Another aspect of ASD is that many individuals with it have trouble with sensory sensitivity. This might include sensitivity to bright light, loud noises, and even tactile feelings such as an itchy sweater can be uncomfortable.
In this section, we will look at how the technology that you already have can be adapted to fit these needs.
One example would be helping students that get overwhelmed by bright lights. If you go into the settings of almost any desktop, laptop, or tablet, you'll be able to turn the brightness down. It only takes a few seconds and it can make a huge difference. Some students might also do better with a bigger screen or for computers to be bypassed with printed assignments when possible.
Students who are sensitive to sound might benefit from a pair of headphones or muted background music on educational games. Due to tactile sensitivities, headphones might not be an option. When it comes to tactile sensitivity, some students might do well with the flat surface of a tablet while others might do better with traditional keyboards.
Also, having a sensory-informed classroom is important, because sensory tools improve attention and participation, and can have big benefits for kids with learning and attention issues.
Once again, you’ll be able to learn more about what works for a student through working with them and taking advice and information from their parents about their sensitivities.
It was noted earlier that students with ASD struggle with social skills. This can cause them to act inappropriately when they don’t mean to. However, unlike most students, they might not understand another student’s reaction to their behaviour and learn from it.
What can be very useful, though, is to use videos for teaching social skills to students. This can be particularly useful to younger students as videos teaching manners can be useful to all students.
We mentioned earlier that the topic of typing on a smooth tablet vs. physical keyboard might appeal to some students with autism more than others. However, there is an argument for utilizing typing vs. writing in the classroom.
It was noted that autism affects an individual’s development. Among these developmental steps that they might struggle with is fine motor skills. That means that when they have an idea in the classroom, it can be difficult to express it by writing it down on a worksheet.
Instead, consider introducing the use of computers or tablets into the classroom that will allow students to type up their ideas and answers even though they are struggling to write them down.
This is useful to all students as well. In the modern era, the likelihood that students will need typing skills is very high. So, teaching these skills in the classroom can be helpful to all your students.
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One of my students ran into school a few years ago, one warm Summer’s morning. He came up very close to my face, staring intently at me with wide, excited eyes, and he started to speak with an attempted steadiness that tried to mask his excitement. “You’ll never believe what happened to me this morning. I. Have. Super. Powers. I can actually, really and truly, melt ice cubes just by staring at them with my eyes. It takes about thirty minutes, but it happens!”
Having worked with many children over the years I repeatedly observed that the use of good quality ICT enhances teaching and learning in all subject areas. They are often motivated to learn not just how the software and equipment works but also the topic in question.
Some areas that I am interested in researching are primary science education and the role that new technologies offer to help children’s understanding and knowledge of this subject. I’m also interested in using ICT to motivate disaffected learners, software design and evaluation and can new technologies support children with learning difficulties, both moderate and severe.
Following a request on Linked In for suitable apps to help autistic children communicate, I thought I would gather together some of the suggestions here.
The main emphasis of the COSPATIAL project is finding ways to adapt existing classroom technologies to engage children with autism in learning social skills. The project is being led by Dr Sarah Parsons of the University of Southampton and Dr Sue Cobb of the University of Nottingham. Thanks go to Dr Sarah Parsons for talking us through the project and, although we did not get to see the project in action, it was clear to see how the technology would be used with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) students.
The COSPATIAL project focuses on two types of technologies:
In this post I am going to concentrate on the Collaborative Virtual Environments. These allow multiple users to interact and communicate within a shared virtual space. They do this by accessing the space on individual laptops that are in the same room. There are 3 different programs that the students can use, each working on different elements of social interaction from communication to working together to complete a task.