Technology and Autism
Our lives are intertwined with technology daily. From email to smartphones, tablets to touch screens computers, virtual reality viewers to GPS enabled devices – technology is everywhere and ever-changing. Schools (including Princeton House Charter School in Orlando, FL) and therapy centers around the nation are noting the success achieved when students are provided opportunities for learning and interaction via technology. Parents are also turning to technology to engage their children with Autism and keep them safe. Autism Speaks, for example, has a list of locating devices that can be used for children that elope (https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-library/locating-devices).
Home security packages and “smart home” devices allow parents and adults to gain information and control home appliances just by speaking to a small device. Not only can these home devices help with safety (locking your doors and alerting you of entries/exits) but also to turn on shows, play music, answer questions, and create sensory friendly environments. For example, the Phillips Hue is a wireless lighting device that helps you to create the perfect ambiance for every moment (http://www2.meethue.com/en-us/). Kids, including students with Autism, love interacting with these smart devices by asking questions and controlling their environment. For a child that may sometimes feel out of control, these devices can be very rewarding.
In the classroom setting, students with limited verbal skills and those that learn better with visual representations can interact with Smart Boards, computers with touch screens and iPads with educational apps. At Princeton House Charter School, students have access to Promethean interactive tables with touch interfaces. They also explore new environments and experiences with our virtual reality viewers. Many students with Autism have difficulty visualizing stories for listening comprehension and writing activities. Our teachers use virtual reality viewers and interactive table experiences as “writing prompt”. It is often easier for our students to describe scenes they visually and tactically experienced minutes prior.
Technology is taken even further through Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). Students with limited verbal language use low and high tech devices to communicate their wants/needs and participate in academics. Low tech devices include speech generating devices such as switches (https://www.ablenetinc.com/technology/switches), AAC devices with paper overlays (http://www.amdi.net/products/aac-devices), communication boards and books. Students can press buttons to formulate messages with pre-recorded voice output.
High tech AAC devices include dynamic display touch screens house a vast array of words and phrases with picture symbols and/or typing options (https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-library/assistive-technology). These devices allow students with Autism to communicate with their teachers, peers and family members quickly and effectively. The invention of iPad and Android tablets have blown up the world of AAC with greater access and cheaper prices. Apps such as Proloquo2Go and GoTalk have help students with Autism gain their voice more than ever before! Seeing a student learn the power of communication via an AAC device is one amazing experience that just keeps on giving.
Technology, whether used in our daily lives or with persons with Autism, is an invaluable tool that will surely continue to transform all our lives!
Punam Desormes, M.A., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Princeton House Charter School