Tech innovations that help autistic kids actively participate in class

Annabelle Carter Short

Annabelle Carter Short is a freelance writer/editor. Annabelle homeschools her autistic son. She also works with few organizations to provide families with the best resources for raising and educating a special needs child. When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. Annabelle likes to make DIY and crafty projects in her free time.

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Image credit: Diane Hovarth Flickr Image credit: Diane Hovarth Flickr Image credit: Diane Hovarth Flickr

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.

What Is Autism?

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.

Visual Scene Displays

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.

Adjust Technology for Sensory Sensitivity

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.

Social Skills on Tape

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.

Typing Vs. Writing

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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