Technology has revolutionised all of our lives, between our computers, tablets and phones we are ‘plugged in’ and online more than ever before. Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are no different in this regard, and because they are strong visual learners technology has the power to change how they learn, how we teach them, and how they interact with their world.
The vast majority of children with ASD are visual learners. It is likely that this is because visual information lasts longer and is more concrete than spoken and heard information. This helps children with ASD, who often need longer than typically developing children, to process information and choose how they are going to reply. Visual supports can help children with ASD to focus, to behave appropriately in various situations, to understand what is expected of them, to stay on task, and to break down a complex skill into smaller, simpler steps. In Saplings Special School for Children with Autism and Complex Needs we constantly use visuals to support the understanding and inclusion of our students in a wide range of daily activities including school work, life skills, behavioural interventions, playtime and social skills training. Our students love technology such as iPads and laptops because as they are visual learners it gives them a much greater chance at understanding their lessons and achieving success when compared with traditional teaching methods such as questioning & answering, role play or talk and discussion based lessons.
With the help of the amazing Naas Cycle Club and their ‘Tour de Foothills’ event Saplings Special School for Children with Autism and Complex Needs is looking to purchase a top of the range 75 inch touch screen interactive whiteboard. It has an electronic height adjustable stand so can be used with our smallest four year olds and also our older classes. We are also hoping to buy 7 iPads for the classrooms and also a top quality digital camera and a printer/ scanner so that the children can complete project work and display it for staff, their peers and their parents on the screen. We feel that investing in this type of technology would be hugely beneficial for our school because:
1. Our students can improve their communication skills through using technological apps: Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization that funds research and increases awareness, reported that about 25 percent of people with ASD are nonverbal. Others who have some verbal language but are limited to less than 100 words are identified as low-functioning communicators. The vast majority of students in Saplings Special School for Children with Autism and Complex Needs fall into one of these two categories. For such students, there are apps called “visual scene displays” that can provide great assistance for children struggling with verbal instructions and comprehension. Other apps, such as Proloquo2go and GraceApp allow the students to communicate their wants and needs to people in their environments. These apps serve multiple purposes, including getting their needs met, asking for help, gaining attention, asking for something they don’t like to be finished and answering questions. As children become more fluent communicators their frustration is reduced and they are less likely to use challenging behaviours. Teaching appropriate communication skills is so important and technological advances have really helped in this area.
2. Teachers can also use this technology to “customise a curriculum for students” with autism: Unlike traditional workbooks, teachers can easily manipulate technology- based programmes and apps so that students with widely differing needs can all be catered for in the one lesson. This promotes inclusion and student confidence in participating during lessons.
3. Motivation: Often students with ASD are drawn to technology, and are much more comfortable looking at screens than books or people. We at Saplings Special School can use this to our advantage by targeting an area which is already of interest to them (digital technology) to teach things they find much less interesting, such as history, geography or science lessons. Through using motivating teaching approaches the students are more likely to interact in engage with lessons that they may have found too difficult or boring otherwise.
4. Demonstrations: As students with ASD are visual learners they often need to be shown a demonstration of what they are expected to do. With an interactive whiteboard a teacher can video herself performing a routine (such as a baking lesson or kicking a ball into a net) and can then play it numerous times for the students, at different speed and with pauses. This can allow the students to complete the tasks without any physical assistance from staff members, which helps to improve their confidence and competence at completing their school work.
The students, parents and staff of Saplings Special School would like to say a huge thank you to Naas Cycle Club, and to everyone who takes part in the Tour de Foothills on the 15th of April… Your ongoing support is invaluable!