Teaching Children with Autism

5 steps to maximize iPads for students with autism

Posted By Meris Stansbury On October 28, 2013 @ 5:00 am Featured on eSchool News,Mobile and Handheld Technologies,Special Education,Top News

Expert explains that there’s a lot more to an iPad than its apps

[1]Classrooms across the country are dotted with iPads on desks, in students’ hands, and in hallways. Recently, a special education expert offered five insights into how the iPad can be used more effectively in classrooms–not just for students with autism, but for all students.

Anthony Gerke, a special education expert and vice president of professional services for  Monarch Teaching Technologies [2], shared tips and advice on integrating iPads into the classroom during a recent edWeb webinar.

“I want to approach this differently than the usual ‘list a bunch of apps’ session,” he said. “I’d like to start with a definition of technology from dictionary.com, which defines technology as ‘the specific methods, materials, and devices we use to solve practical problems.’ Notice it doesn’t just say, ‘devices.’”

Gerke explained that technology doesn’t have to be just one device or piece of computer programming, but rather is a blend of devices, education-based practices, and materials that can help students learn and become successful.

Using this definition as a guide, Gerke detailed five tips to help teachers maximize the iPad for students with autism.

1. Know why you chose the iPad.

One of the reasons Gerke chose the iPad was because of the  SETT Framework [3],which urges educators to choose technology and practices that suit the student. The framework asks educators to consider the student’s abilities, the student’s learning environment, the task the student is being asked to complete, and the tools the student has or may need to complete the task.

Because the iPad has many features that work within SETT, such as portability, a tactile surface, the ability to engage many learners, and the non-stigma of being a socially acceptable device, the iPad can be an ideal choice for students with autism, and other students in general.

“The iPad is also very visual, which is good for special needs learners, because many fall into the VIM/VEM/VOM chart, or need a combination of the Visual Instruction Mode, a Visual Expression Mode, and a Visual Organization Mode,” explained Gerke.

Also, for classrooms using an iPad2 or iPad Mini, both support iOS6, which allows for Guided Access—a feature that locks students into the app the teacher has chosen for them to use.

How to use Guided Access

There are also two resources available for educators and administrators interested in using iPads for autism that Gerke recommends for those who’d like to learn more about what the device is capable of: “ iPads 4 Special Needs [4],” a free eBook, and “ Accessibility Features of iOS for the iPad and iPhone [5],” a free course provided by  udemy [6].

2. Incorporate methods.

If you don’t know the purpose of the activity, learning progress may not always occur, noted Gerke.

“What is your purpose in the iPad activity? Is it a game for relaxation and leisure? Maybe a transitional activity? Or maybe an academic or behavioral support? There must be a purpose behind the activity,” he said.

Gerke recommended The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders’  evidence-based practice list [7] that provides practices on visual supports, video modeling, computer-aided instruction, social narratives, and much more. Altogether, there are 24 unique evidence-based practices.

3. Plan for success.

According to Gerke, one of the best ways to ensure student learning success is to communicate your expectations with students.

“Tell your student the purpose of the iPad activity. For example, this is for work time, or this is for play time, or we’re doing this activity because X. Also, set a time limit for the activity, let students know what are acceptable activities and what are not, and always have a transition plan. Having a transition plan means knowing how you are going to get your students off of the iPad; this can be difficult and my advice is to follow up an iPad activity with another engaging activity to make the transition easier.”

4. Know what materials to use.

For Gerke, this step is where apps finally come into play, but Gerke warns educators not to choose apps just because they’re popular, or have been recommended by their peers.

“Choose apps based on student learning style and your own objectives for that student,” he explained.One resource Gerke recommended for choosing apps is the  Apps for Autism [8] website, which lists apps based on their learning purpose.

Another resource is Bridgingapps.org’s  Insignio Tool [9] for finding apps based on student interests and learning style.

5. Measure student success.

As Gerke explained, even if the iPad activity is engaging, success must be measured, as educators have a responsibility to make data-driven decisions.

“If the purpose of the activity is for leisure, know how you are going to measure if the student is relaxing. For example, are they more anxious or less? Are they socializing more or less? And if it’s for work, what’s the student’s rate of knowledge acquisition? And if the app you’re using for your purpose doesn’t have a way to track progress, you need a plan to measure progress,” he noted.

For more information on Gerke’s presentation, as well as information about  VizZle [10], check out Gerke’s  archived webinar [11] on  edweb.net [12]. Become a member of edweb’s community at  www.edweb.net/autism [13]-it’s free to join!

URLs in this post:

[1]     Image: http://www.eschoolnews.com/files/2013/10/ipad2resized.jpg

[2]     Monarch Teaching Technologies: http://www.monarchteachtech.com/

[3]     SETT Framework: http://kisd.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/69162357/SETT%20Framework.pdf

[4]     iPads 4 Special Needs: http://ipads4specialneedsbook.com/protected/

[5]     Accessibility Features of iOS for the iPad and iPhone: https://www.udemy.com/accessibility-features-of-ios-for-the-ipad-and-iphone/? sl=E0IbdVlTQ24%3D

[6]     udemy: https://www.udemy.com/

[7]     evidence-based practice list: http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/content/briefs

[8]     Apps for Autism: http://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-apps

[9]     Insignio Tool: http://bridgingapps.org/getting-started-with-insignio/

[10]   VizZle: http://govizzle.com/

[11]   archived webinar: http://www.instantpresenter.com/WebConference/RecordingDefault.aspx?c_psrid=EA58DC87874D

[12]   edweb.net: http://home.edweb.net/

[13]   www.edweb.net/autism: http://www.edweb.net/autism

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How can teachers and parents ensure that the needs of students with autism are being addressed? Read "Six tips for Guiding the Learning of Students with Autism" to gain some insight into their special needs and additional resources to use to learn more.

Technology plays a role in helping students with autism succeed in school

autism-support[1]Transitioning to a new school year often is challenging for students with autism, but technology can help support those students as they become more independent in their learning.

During an edWeb webinar [2], visual strategist and speech language pathologist Linda Hodgdon shared five tips to help students with autism begin the school year successfully. Lauren Stafford, vice president of Research and Instructional Design at Monarch Teaching Technologies (MTT), offered technology tips to support each of the five strategies.

The most important thing to understand, Hodgdon said, is the communication strengths and challenges of children with autism. Most people misunderstand how autism can impact a student’s communication abilities.

“The majority of them understand what they see better than what they hear,” she said. The same is true for other special-needs students and students in general–they tend to be visual learners.

“There’s no problem with using low-tech, mid-tech or high-tech,” Stafford said. In outlining ways to match Hodgdon’s strategies to technology strategies, Stafford touched on MTT’s web-based vizZle tools, but other tech tools also are available for students with autism.

1. Communication

  • Create a communication environment that is “user friendly” for students
  • Plan for all students
  • Use many forms of communication, including speech, pointing and gestures, body language, pictures, objects, written language, and technology

Technology: Topic boards that give students simple options to respond to questions by selecting “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” thinking about Universal Design elements and giving students a variety of ways to respond so that participation is easy for everyone.

Group time can be a challenging time, so having visual supports to help everyone get organized can help students with autism know what their routine will be.

Students can use a topic board to drag and drop icons to communicate, build sentences, and respond to sentences.

2. Environment

  • Set up a visual classroom
  • Analyze the environment as it relates to schedules, routines, group needs, and individual needs
  • Prepare visuals in both low- and high-tech forms
  • Plan how they will be used

For instance, examine transitions–how does each student know where to go? Does the student know what to do when he or she goes to an area? How does the student know when the activity is finished and what will happen next?

Organize the physical environment with maps, visually-marked work stations, and make it free from distractions.

Maps can be made with Microsoft Paint, Paintbrush 2 on a Mac, or with an online tool such as http://classroom.4teachers.org [3].

Visuals are key in setting up classroom structure for students with autism, and educators should identify the type of visual needed to foster independence. Visuals could include objects, photos, line drawings, symbols, or text.

Technology: Technology in the classroom requires considerations, Stafford said. Educators should focus on what types of technology will be integrated into the school day, and they should think about the layout of the classroom so that their technology isn’t distracting to other students.

“Come up with a plan so that when you’re putting these things into practice in your classroom, you’re optimizing your time with your students,” she said.

3. Giving information

  • Think of using visual tools to give information to students with autism. This information might include what it going to happen and when, what choices the student has, what is changing, and so on.

Technology: “It becomes complicated because we have different kinds of visual learners,” Stafford said.

A visual schedule with drag-and-drop icons representing different activities can help students with autism understand what they will do on a given day. This also could be done in a paper version for a low-tech approach.

First-then or first-next-then boards are another option for students with autism. The student has a bit of control when choosing learning activities pertaining to certain subjects.

Technology can help educators include everyone in learning because it is customizable to meet students’ different needs, Stafford said.

4. Managing time

  • Time management can help students with autism understand when to start and stop activities, when something will happen, how to follow a schedule, when to take a turn, and more, Hodgdon said.

Technology: Timers or stopwatch features on smartphones work well and can be used as visual reminders, Stafford said.

5. Support positive behaviors

  • Use visuals to help students with autism understand classroom rules, expected behaviors, and how to handle social situations.

Technology: A student’s behavior can indicate that they are having a difficult time absorbing information.

Classroom rules are often written in text and list form, but using visual representations can help students with autism understand classroom rules.

Multi-sensory supports include visual, sensory, and auditory supports.