Assistive Technology to Improve Education for Students with Autism

Jun 12, 2017
Tagged with: Assistive Technology to Improve Education for Students with Autism

Every individual has potential. This month, we have cause to celebrate that. June 18 is Autistic Pride Day, a celebration of the diversity of everyone on the autism spectrum.

In the US, One in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Regardless, educators rarely receive specialized training in order to best meet the needs of students with ASD. Given how ubiquitous the disorder is, it is clear that measures must be taken to ensure equal access to education.

Fortunately, there are several types of assistive technologies that can improve the quality of education for these learners. By implementing the following devices in K-12 education, we can help ensure that students with autism can develop the social and language skills needed to succeed in life:

Speech-Generating Devices

Because children with autism often have difficulty developing language and social skills, educators and peers may struggle to understand them. Speech-generating devices (SGD) are designed to bridge this communication gap and improve the development of such skills. SGDs encompass a wide range of assistive technologies, and many of them have practical applications for students with the disorder in the classroom.

One common type of a SGD is simply a tablet with an app that incorporates “matrix training.” Such programs present images for phrases and terms that the student already knows. When the user needs to communicate, they can select the icons in the correct order to convey their message. The app will then “speak” the desired message through a synthesized voice.

The fear that children may become too reliant on this technology has led some educators to have reservations, but this concern is unfounded. They have been proven to promote speech development, and studies indicate that students across the autistic spectrum have benefited from using SGDs.

Portable Word Processor

As students with ASD may have difficulties with fine motor skills, writing can be challenging. Their writing may be difficult to read. They may have organizational problems. Writing by hand may simply be stressful. Portable word processors — whether that be a tablet with a keyboard, a laptop, or other keyboarding device — can help these learners.

As public schools become more tech-savvy, these devices should become increasingly accessible. Many classrooms in the US already have designated tablets, laptops, or desktop computers for regular use. Because these devices require less precise fine movements, and errors can be corrected at any time, they can benefit learners with ASD. They also allow students to reorganize notes at a later time, making it easier to study and retain information.

Visual Aids

Videos, photographs, symbols, and even written words can act as types of visual support. Any teacher should strive to incorporate visual aids throughout instruction. Not only does this practice benefit predominantly visual learners, it can greatly assist students with autism spectrum disorders. While even high-functioning learners frequently have short-term memory deficits, visual aids can help students retain information and make decisions.

Some applications include:

  • Using symbols to organize and memorize information, such as the sequence of a narrative
  • Timetables to help pupils anticipate and follow their daily routine
  • Choice boards that allow students to make decisions, since remembering a long list of options may present a challenge
  • An “emotional thermometer” that allows children to identify their feelings and respond appropriately

In K-12 education, visual aids are essential. For pupils with autism, they can lead to dramatic improvements.

Assistive Listening Systems

When it comes to processing information — mentally sorting the important from the unimportant — students with ASD may struggle. Auditory overstimulation issues are commonly associated with autism. This is largely due to distraction; the noisy bustle of a classroom can be chaotic to these learners. While earplugs or headphones can help during assessments, they are of little use during active instruction.

Assistive listening systems can help. While they are typically used by people with hearing loss, they can also be used by those with autism. These devices improve the speech-to-noise ratio by separating speech from background noise. This can help users focus on the words of the instructor, rather than on the noise of fidgeting students and scrawling pencils.

Smart Glasses

Unlike the other items on this list, smart glasses are a technology that educators and counselors can use when interacting with students who have autism. The practical applications of this device in this context were explored by Rush University, where a study was performed to determine if Tobii Pro smart glasses could analyze children to assist with earlier diagnoses and developing more effective treatments.

Only an expert is ordinarily able to determine if a child is exhibiting signs of autism. When using smart glasses and software to monitor social communication behaviors, however, anyone can detect such signs. For educators looking to accommodate children with autism, this could prove to be enormously helpful; when students begin to improve their language and social skills, there should be an observable change in behavior which smart glasses can track. Gauging a student’s progress in this manner is unprecedented, and these glasses should prove to be a boon in the future.

As the world celebrates the diversity of individuals on the autism spectrum this month, parents and educators can rejoice in the fact that new generations of students do not have to view autism as an “obstacle.” There are a wide range of tools available to help each student realize their potential.



Author: Devin Morrissey

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