education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - group of school kids with tablet pc computer having fun on break in classroom. Autism technology and apps

How do I use technology and apps effectively for a person with an ASD?

Tech devices such as iPads, and iPhones have become increasingly popular for assisting people on the autism spectrum. There are lots of positives going for technology and apps: people on the spectrum often enjoy using tech devices, there is some autonomy, it takes the pencil out of the process to demonstrate learning, there are 1000’s of apps to teach a myriad of skills, and their use can be both motivating and rewarding. Nonverbal individuals have another way to express themselves. These tech devices are also becoming more affordable all the time. But is there a down side?

The cons of technology for those with autism

Daniel Donahoo wrote an interesting blog about the iPad and autism for Wired magazine some years ago that brought up important points. He stated in his blog,

“the potential of the iPad is not achieved by the iPad alone, nor by simply placing it in the hands of a child with autism. The potential of the device is realized by the way professionals like speech pathologists, educators, occupational therapists and early childhood development professionals apply their skills and knowledge to use the iPad to effectively support the development of children. The potential is realized by engaged parents working with those professionals to explore how the device best meets the individual needs of their child.”

He does talk about the use of iPads as being a stim for some people with ASD, and not a learning tool, if used excessively or without supervision. Mr. Donahoo also points out that not all families can afford an iPad and therefore feel they are missing out. Over time, more support programs will likely become available, as the price of these devices is decreasing each year, (remember how expensive VCR’s were when they first came out or digital cameras?)

I also came across this interesting blog post, written by a dad of five children, debating the points that Mr. Donahoo brought up in his blog. I liked his response to Donahoo’s statement that while no two children with autism are alike and can use the iPad in the same way, this dad feels that schools can take this single platform and use it in a variety of ways and settings (i.e. social skills, scheduling, time management). Like any intervention though, there has to be some education and purpose behind what is being used with the person with autism.

Finally, there has been research done recently that has found that night time use of tech devices may cause sleep disturbances. As with anything, it is important to maintain boundaries around it’s use and timing.

How could we be using technology and apps to help support those with autism?

Get Social: As I wrote in an early blog post, while people with autism are attracted to, and using technology, it’s not necessarily working to help develop their social skills. That is a missed opportunity.  Social Media is a great place for those who might be less verbal etc…to develop some social skills in a controlled environment. SLP Anna Vagin has been doing some great work in this area. She has published two books on this topic – Movie Time Social Learning and YouCue Feelings. Anna also writes a blog that you can sign up for on the social media topic .

Explore Apps: there are now thousands of apps out there. It can be hard to know which ones should you use, when and with whom. In choosing any app, it has to be reviewed first. Look at the language level and difficulty of the app. Is there a lot of text which may not support a non-reader? Are the visuals clear and easy to understand? Are you using the app to target a specific skill? What is the reason for using this app with a certain person? Does the instructor needs additional support or training before introducing this app? These are valid questions to ask. Just because someone says they are using an app and it’s great doesn’t mean it will suit every individual.

There was an excellent article written in the New York Times in their Gadgetwise section that provided great sites for apps that have been reviewed and assessed. One site that stands out is Apps for Children with Special Needs. Two other great resources are the books Apps For Autism which was recently revised and expanded, and Technology Tools for Students with Autism  both of which offer comprehensive lists of tools, apps, and also recommendations for use.

While the use of technology should not be a substitute for human interaction, it can provide another learning platform. There are many tech choices, affordable or free apps, and excellent websites which can provide individuals with a chance to work at their own pace, reinforce, and allow for repetition which is key in acquiring new knowledge and skills. We live in a high-tech world and it’s important that people on the autism spectrum can feel comfortable, familiar, manage and function in this world.

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