Tech Savvy – Using Technology to Enhance Skills

In today’s world, technology is all around us. We use computers, iPhones, iPads, video camcorders, digital cameras and DVD players. Using technology with the autism spectrum disorder population can be beneficial. These items offer a visual way to organize information and offer quick accessibility. Programs are predictable; the repetitive way in which we use tech devices creates comfort and independence as familiarity grows. The user can work at a suitable pace. Many programs reinforce or encourage with positive comments such as “good job” or “well done” accompanied by a pleasing sound or visual which motivates.

There are numerous ways different types of technology can positively impact the life of a person with ASD.

Video Camcorders – Video modeling and self-modeling can create positive changes for those with ASD. There are two types of video modeling interventions: video modeling and video self-modeling. Video modeling usually involves someone watching a video and then imitating the behaviors of the person on the video. These videos can be made by any professional or you can buy pre-made tapes like Model Me Kids.

Video self-modeling involves a person watching a video of himself successfully engaging in a behavior and then imitating that behavior. This article describes the differences between these two interventions and gives great examples. A great book to read about video self-modeling is Seeing Is Believing.

Other ways that videotaping can be used is to record events to help with recall at a later time. Without a visual reminder of the event, a person with ASD may have difficulty remembering what happened. We have used this technique with both of our children who won’t remember what happened at a birthday party until they see the video of it.

A task or event can also be recorded ahead of time so that a person can see what steps are involved in what order or to create predictability around an event or task, alleviating anxiety.

DVD Players – The new Blu Ray players now have modems built into them with full wireless internet capability. This means access to internet and You Tube via a large screen. There are so many great instructional You Tube clips on how to do things. You Tube time can also be used to access a special interest, perhaps as a reward.

There are also great DVD’s out there. We carry many of the Coulter instructional videos that teach manners, transitioning to college or work, or to support siblings. DVD’s can be paused or segments watched several times. Repetition is the key to learning with the ASD population.

iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads– There are loads of autism applications for both of these tech gadgets and many of them free. Have a look at this blog for some app ideas. Here is another list with the apps sorted by categories.

Digital Cameras – Use them to create instant visuals for schedules, social stories, organizing items, and showing where to put things. Takes pictures of people in the life of a person with ASD to use as reminders of whom they are going to see or work with. Photos can be helpful for those who suffer from prosopagnosia which is difficulty with recognizing faces.

Computers – I don’t think I need to say much here since we’ve been using computers for quite a few years now and most people have them in their homes. What I like about them is they take the pencil out of the process and provide another means of expression through the use of the keyboard or through voice activated software like Dragon.

For teens and adults, there are internet support groups they can join or they can find organizations for help.

Not all tech devices suit everyone. Some devices are distracting or can promote self-stimulating behavior. Tech use can increase isolation. It can be hard to separate fantasy from reality (in games) or understanding what information is accurate. (Have a look at this past blog on Computer Use among Adolescents with ASD.) Keep in mind the goal for using any particular form of technology – is it to give a nonverbal child a voice? Is it to teach a specific task? Show the passing of time?

Software programs should be reviewed first by an adult to look at both difficulty and suitability. Too often programs are bought and used without sufficient supervision. The level of difficulty, operational level, or language level may be too high.

Be prepared to review and re-visit applications and programs because individual needs change over time. The great thing about technology is it is popular with all ages; for young people, it can be a great way to fit in and have something to converse about. It’s more socially acceptable among teenagers to use iPhones and iPads than to use a laminated schedule on paper.

Technology shouldn’t replace the experience of doing things but rather to enhance or improve an experience. It supports the visual learning strengths of people with ASD, fulfills the need for predictability and allows some kinesthetic learning through manipulation of information by touch. Remember…teach to the strength, reinforce, create predictability, allow for repetition, and let a person work at a pace which is comfortable for them. Technology has the potential to tick all of these boxes.

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