What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Autism Programs, Supports and iPad Apps

"He is remote, a space station overcharged with data, orbiting silently, far away." 
From Loving a Child with Autism,  [Beliefnet, April 13, 2007] 

The National Autistic Society reports, "Computer technology by itself does not provide a magic solution for people with autism. It may offer a range of very useful tools for a person with autism, but this must be embedded in a wider care and/or educational system to be effective. Using a computer may be a safe and reliable place for a person with autism to be but like any activity it is important that it is not used inappropriately."

Students, specifically those with autism, may have difficulty ever moving beyond the computer edutainment relationship, but venturing into other areas of computer use can be very dynamic, especially with students on the spectrum. Using computers, or iPads, as a form of reward often becomes a form of self-stimulation. Once this relationship is developed it may become almost impossible to redirect students to purposeful use. Purposeful use should be the school's focus.

It is important to remember that the learning outcomes should drive the need for the technology, not technology driving the need.

The National Autistic Society shares:
Advantages of computers for individuals with autism are that computers:
  • are predictable and, therefore, controllable
  • enable errors to be made safely
  • offer a highly perfectible medium
  • give possibilities of non-verbal or verbal expression.
The National Autistic Society has a great article that expands on the above thoughts called, Computers: Applications for People with Autism.

When beginning to use computers with students, remember that children with ASD typically do not generalize individually taught splinter skills and teachers/parents should be hesitant to teach out of context.

Students may find the mouse to be highly distracting. Some modifications for over-clicking is:
  1. Use a one button mouse (USB Mac type mouse.)
  2. Use accessibility settings (found in the control panel) to reduce acceptance of multiple clicks.
  3. Place stickers or other markings on the mouse (press here, move here).
  4. Consider removing toolbars for kids who tend to click out of things. (Usually found under view- toolbars.)
  5. Use an iPad.   

Internet Sites and Programs for use with Children on the Spectrum, and resources for parents and support staff:
  • Autism Resources is dedicated to technology resources. Take some time here.
  • The Autism Society of America has recommended, Aven’s Corner which provides free and fun computer-based educational games. Created by a mother and father of a child with autism, the games were designed for all children, but with special thought given to those children with autism and developmental disabilities.
  • Cindy's Autistic Support offers printable worksheets, activities and crafts plus more. There are links to activities to promote Autism awareness as well as book recommendations for further information.
  • DoToLearn is such a rich site with resources galore. Take a little time when you visit this site or you just might miss some key elements.
  • Emotes are a series of characters that each represent a different emotion--from Abash the embarrassed to Boom the angry. The Emotes assist children with identifying, understanding and expressing their emotions as well as teaching about non-verbal and social cues. The Emotes can be experienced through picture books, PVC and plush toys as well as online content.
  • The Google SketchUp blog announced an interesting new resource for educators and parents. It seems that the SketchUp team had been getting a lot of calls and letters saying that children on the autism spectrum really enjoyed using the 3D modeling tool.Google responded by setting up Project Spectrum, which includes a manual of ideas for parents and educators written by Anja Kintsch, the Assistive Technology Team Leader for the Boulder Valley School District, Colorado. You can watch a great little You-Tube to see how it works.
  • The Gray Center has a great section all about Social Stories. This site is worth exploring as it does not just provide social stories but gives a clear explanation and helps you to know how to write your own.  
  • Hacking Autism "is using technology to give people with Autism a voice." They provide a nice listing of software programs available on the Internet, organized by categories, that they feel are worthwhile for people with Autism. It is a great format, worth exploring.
  • Hiyah.net: offers free educational software made for children 18 months to 4 years of age (or higher for children struggling with language delays due to autism or other causes).
  • Multimedia strategies for video modeling to support a student's behavior and social pragmatics goals can be provided through the use of speech bubbles within Microsoft Word, Hollywood High, Comic Life, VoiceThread, PhotoStory, and Activity Trainer.
  • iCan Communication Interventions, which is part of the Autism Network, provides modules in both AAC and PECS stating, "For a variety of reasons, some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are unable to communicate effectively by speaking. Without an effective communication system, they are unable to convey even the most basic of wants and needs. For them Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) may be a solution."
  • LoveToKnow offers wonderful lesson plans designed with a philosophy of, "Lesson plans must recognize that autistic children have specific needs that must be addressed."
  • OASIS MAAP web site provides articles, educational resources, links to local, national and international support groups, sources of professional help, lists of camps and schools, conference information, recommended reading, and moderated support message boards.
  • Sharon Eilt's site is very rich in resources, categorized easily to assist you in finding many wonderful resources for providing inclusion support for our students on the spectrum.  
  • A Social Story is a simple description of an everyday social situation, written from a child's perspective. They can be used in different situations. For example a social story can help a child prepare for upcoming changes in routine or learn appropriate social interactions for situations that they encounter. Autism Therapy offers a very thorough description along with many examples of social stories. This site is worth exploring.
  • Studies have shown that young children only have object recognition with photos. The "Take Your Pix" photo album has sturdy pages, into which photos can be inserted from an opening in the top of the pages. Kids with autism, speech delay, or other special needs may find it particularly beneficial as a learning tool, or just something fun to create with their own favorite photos.
  • ZAC Browser is a web browser developed specifically for children with autism, and autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), and PDD-NOS. They made this browser for the children - "for their enjoyment, enrichment, and freedom. Children touch it, use it, play it, interact with it, and experience independence through ZAC." The Zac Browser is the safest Internet browser for any child -- but it's designed specifically to benefit autism children.

Social Stories are always powerful to use with students. Here are a few sites to explore dealing with Social Stories:

Speaking of social stories... interested in learning about how Discovering the Power of Video for Teaching Social Skill Success  that is full of useful information. (Get out those wonderful little Flip Cameras!) can be used with students on the spectrum? Linda Hodgdon has been doing a lot of work in this area recently. She has posted a one-hour recorded webinar on her site: Autism Family On-Line.

To learn about Assistive Technology for students with Autism, check out the WATI Guide.

Research is finding some encouraging results about children on the spectrum and their use of iPads.

Teachers are using iPads as a tool to reach out to children on the spectrum and finding great results after using fun-filled exercises. The iPad seems to be less stressful and more fun for both the teachers and the students. Again- the tool needs to be used with caution and education in mind. Keeping it purposeful, with learning outcomes in mind- the iPad can be a wonderful tool.

A large number of apps have been introduced to assist the autistic population, and they seem to fall into three categories:
  1. Those that help with attention span
  2. Those that help with communication
  3. Those that help with organization.

This article will discusses these apps and how they can be used: Helping Autistic Children with iOS Devices.

For a listing of apps, you may want to explore:

Have you been worried that those fine motor challenges just won't be able to work with the iPad? In the article: The iPad: a Near-Miracle for My Son With Autism, this mother shares, "It's a tough little device. And for Leo, the larger scale of the iPad makes everything he wants to interact with just the right size, and therefore totally accessible.He may have a hard time writing on paper or typing on a computer keyboard, but he is a world-class iPad swiper and tapper, and his excellent visual memory means he can use that swiping and tapping to navigate between apps and videos with precision." Check out this article for information about apps plus some great videos of Leo using the iPad, but remember, this is one person's experience. It does not mean it would be your child's experience.

And, from another Mom's point of view, Best iPad Apps for Autism; Asperger's Syndrome, a list of apps that she describes as, "Most of the apps he and I liked aren’t targeted  for autism, but they are 'autism friendly'.  I tried to find as many free and under $2.00 apps as I could.  The iPad isn’t the cure to Autism, it is a resource for parents that is working.   My experience with the iPad is unique to my child but I do believe that it can be helpful to many others."

In this article, iPads Are Not a Miracle for Children With Autism By Daniel Donahoo, he shares, among other thoughts, " Of course, this has had the unintended impact of being quite a difficult experience for families of children with autism who can’t afford the device. The feeling that there may be something out there that can support their child’s development, but that they can’t access, is a terrible situation for a parent to be in. The reportage of the experience of children with autism who use the device doesn’t reflect on how parents and professionals support and engage with children to use the device.

They promote it as though every child with autism is a savant who has been waiting for this perfect tool. While a few of the stories may be accurate, they generally do not show the whole picture of how an iPad supports child development," and " the potential of the iPad is not achieved by the iPad alone, nor by simply placing it in the hands of a child with autism. The potential of the device is realized by the way professionals like speech pathologists, educators, occupational therapists and early childhood development professionals apply their skills and knowledge to use the iPad to effectively support the development of children. The potential is realized by engaged parents working with those professionals to explore how the device best meets the individual needs of their child." It is worth taking some time to read the full article.