It may be the school Easter holidays, but April is not just about chocolate eggs and treasure hunts. April is also Autism Awareness Month, raising awareness across the globe about the 61,500 schoolchildren in the state-funded sector who have been recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder.
Benefits of Technology in Special Needs Schools
Implementing technology-based learning in special needs schools can help bypass, work around or compensate for an individual’s specific learning disabilities. Since technology increases motivation and can be used to personalise lessons to a student’s individual needs, their potential can be reached in ways that simply didn’t exist before.
This assistive technology can act as a great equaliser in a classroom with diverse learners. By using technology to personalise lessons and skill enhancement to each child, enabling children of different levels to work together. Technology can also improve soft skills such as teamwork and communication, aiding social as well as academic development.
Implementation into the Curriculum
A standard curriculum does not do enough to unlock the potential of schoolchildren on the autistic spectrum. With a creative twist on standard technology, engagement and focus in the classroom can improve substantially.
Technology can have a dramatic impact on special education when it is implemented properly. With visual reinforcement and audio holding the power to combat common sensory difficulties, you would be hard pressed to find an autism classroom that doesn’t use visual schedules or other visual behavioural supports. But how do you create and maintain an environment that can sustain the customised visuals required for all parts of a child’s day?
From tablets to interactive whiteboards, apps to computer games; the options are endless when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom. Whether you set tasks that require using different gadgets or create an array of games to spark interest and encourage interaction, you are likely to see good results fast.
Which Technologies are Best?
The educational technology market is awash with products tailored specifically to those on the autism spectrum. Here are just a few examples:
Avaz is an app designed to help children communicate non-verbally by tackling issues they might have with processing information such as letters, words and sentences. The app was released in Android form in 2010 and the iPad version was hot on its heels, breaking into the market in 2012.
The brainchild of electrical engineer Ajit Narayanan, the app focuses solely on autism, incorporating additional audio and visual reinforcement to hurdle common sensory difficulties.
Information is reworked into pictures that are easy to understand by redirecting users through visual pathways instead of verbal ones. Its holistic nature means that it has the ability to teach the child underlying patterns of language while seamlessly integrating with existing methods of speech therapy.
VizZle® by Monarch was developed specifically to meet the challenges that autistic children have to contend with on a daily basis. The online software opens up a library of 15,000 pieces of media to teachers (as well as therapists and parents) to create any content or curriculum using a series of templates that mimic what is done in the classroom every day.
At the end of last year, using robots to improve the basic learning skills of children on the autistic spectrum was trialled at Topcliffe Primary School in Birmingham, where around a quarter of children are autistic.
The two humanoid robots, which could dance, teach language and play games, proved a huge success. Head teacher Ian Lowe noted that because the robots have no emotion, autistic children found them less threatening than their teachers and easier to engage with, vastly improving their learning experience.