The rapid growth in the development and use of assistive technology in recent years has significantly improved access to education for children with autism. A multitude of assistive technology devices are now available for all children to use in public schools, and special attention has been given to assistive technology to help children with autism and other disabilities function more independently in their classrooms. This variety of devices helps children to learn by focusing on their individual learning styles, rather than forcing children to adjust their own learning styles to the classroom.
Many of the recent assistive technology devices used with children with autism focus on adapting education for children who are visual learners. Children with autism are frequently sensitive to sound and show difficulty processing auditory information, so gaining information through reading, pictures and videos is easier for them than listening to a lecture. Tablet computers and smart phones currently provide mobile methods for children with autism to use visual learning in their classrooms.
A 2012 study examined the effectiveness of using iPads to teach phonics to children with autism.
The results of this study showed that the children in the study displayed improved performance in letter recognition and identification, as well as increased independence during learning. Computer aided instruction, visual schedules, and visual timers are other examples of technology devices that assist children with autism who are primarily visual learners.
The interactive whiteboard, a device that is now incorporated into many classrooms in the United States, adds a kinesthetic component to visual learning for children who have movement based learning styles. This device incorporates a large digital monitor with a touch screen. A computer interface allows teachers to display any lesson available on a computer to the entire class. Students may use the touch screen to interact with the lessons. In addition, teachers and students may use their fingers or a writing stylus to write on the monitor, providing a movement component to learning.
Children with autism are attracted to the interactive whiteboard’s large size and interactive capabilities, helping them to “tune in” to the lessons provided through the device. This type of assistive technology has provided teachers with an effective way to integrate accommodations for the needs of children with autism into the regular education classroom.
Children who have difficulties with visual processing may use auditory input to learn. These children may have difficulty reading, so access to audio books on CD or MP3 players is provided to these children by many schools. Reading and writing support is also available through text to speech and dictation software, reducing a child’s need to visually read or use visual motor skills when writing and typing. Children also have access to auditory prompt devices, such as timers or pagers, to assist them with remembering daily functions and schedules.
Older students may be trained to use their personal cell phones to program calendar reminders, using auditory or vibrating prompts, to assist them with following schedules and turning in homework.