Michele McKeone is a special education teacher from Philadelphia who studied digital media as an undergrad. When she started teaching, she became concerned that many of her students were falling behind their peers in their ability to use the internet for everyday tasks, such as e-mail, research, and even making connections on social media.
While many students with autism are skilled at certain aspects of computer use, they may have deficits in understanding basic safety and etiquette rules, which can adversely affect their chances to obtain employment and create relationships down the road. Skills such as building a resume, filling out online profiles, and understanding the social rules of cyberspace are a crucial aspect of interacting with others in the digital age.
“As a support teacher for children with autism, I realized that while there was no curriculum designed to teach digital literacy that matched the unique needs of my students, these skills were becoming increasingly important in our day-to-day interactions and changing the way we work, communicate, and even socialize.”
This led to the launch of Autism Expressed, an online curriculum that guides students step-by-step through the skills necessary to become independent consumers of digital media. The curriculum contains four modules, starting with internet basics and rules for online safety, moving on to skills such as e-mail and blogging, use of social media, and the skills necessary to seek employment using the internet. Students earn badges for successfully completing lessons.
The ultimate goal of the program is to offer students the skills they will need to survive in a world where digital media is an integral part of communication. According to their website, “Autism Expressed seeks to level the playing field, giving all learners the ability to express themselves and interact in the digital world, and this is what we intend to provide to your child as well. The ultimate outcome results in a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy as well as increased earnings and learning potential for students as they pursue post-secondary educational goals.”
The program has received positive feedback, including being named one of the hottest startups in Philadelphia Magazine last August, 2013 and being honored as Startup of the Year at the Philadelphia Geek Awards. Leslie Ochroch Baretta, mother of a child using the program, says,
“One of the things that’s a true strength about Autism Expressed is that it enables the child to learn in a very safe and controlled environment. So my child’s not out exploring on the internet when all these potentially challenging and difficult and unfortunate events could happen, but he’s learning in a place where he’s free to explore.”
McKeone says that she has seen her students demonstrate benefits that go beyond simply understanding how to use technology. She reports better social skills, empathy, motivation, and less frustration, especially from her students with limited verbal abilities and adds,
“By giving them digital media and giving them their own website to identify interests, they had their own voice, and the frustration went down.”
For more information about Autism Expressed, visit their web site at www.autismexpressed.com and watch their YouTube video below: