Autism: There's an App for That!
"It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential" - Dr. Hans Asberger
Increased awareness of autism combined with a rising number of people identified on the autism spectrum has brought attention to the benefits and challenges of mainstream education of students with autism. People with Asberger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (both on the autism spectrum) can be very intelligent and are often outperforming their peers academically. This academic success can be overshadowed by the social problems and “awkwardness” that frequently accompany the disorders. If teachers can help these students overcome social obstacles, these students will be in a much better place to succeed. “Fitting in” socially and being able to read social cues can make a big difference throughout life and they are important skills for us to be teaching our students on the autism spectrum.
There are many useful tools and lessons specifically tailored to students with autism. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we are discussing some of these resources available on the Gateway. For a more general introduction to autism with resources and modification ideas for teachers with students on the spectrum, please read the following two archived columns. Joann’s post, If You Suffer From Autism, Then You’re Doing it Wrong, introduces three Gateway resources geared toward autistic students. My companion column, Autism Spectrum Toolbox, presents more basic tools, modifications, and tips for working with these students. This week on the Gateway, we will be focusing on the social aspect of autism and the tools teachers can use to encourage social skills.
There are some methods that parents and teachers have used for many years to encourage the social skills of people with autism and other special needs. Some traditional methods include social story picture books, role-playing in the classroom, and social skills groups where students have a chance to practice day-to-day interactions with one another. Certain students may even be lucky enough to have a personal tutor at home to work with them on these skills. This type of practice is essential for helping autistic students know what to do in social situations where many of us just naturally know what to do.
A decade ago, these methods were a teacher’s only way to develop students’ social skills. Recent technological advances have greatly increased the number tools we have to help students practice handling social situations appropriately. Using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, students will be able to practice these skills independently. If your school has any of these devices available, you can find many apps that are suitable for teaching social skills to students with autism.
If you are looking for recommendations for apps for students with autism, start by reading Finding Good Apps For Children With Autism, a New York Times article. A 60 Minutes broadcast, Apps for Autism, also provides recommendations. This is a good start to finding what types of educational apps are out there to support students with autism. Although traditional methods for teaching social skills are still important, it is good for teachers to be able to embrace all technology has to offer autistic children.
Lorraine Millan, a behavior management specialist and a mom of a child with autism, created the Social Navigator App. This is a good example of an app that can help teach social skills and reduce behavioral problems and meltdowns in social situations. I had a chance to discuss the benefits of using technology to decrease behavioral problems. The Social Navigator App helps students and adults implement a skills-based, conflict resolution approach for a student who is becoming agitated. The app helps students manage their own behavior and helps them learn the social processing
skills they need to “read” social cues around them. If you are dealing with behavioral issues
related to autism, this is an excellent choice to try.
I hope those of you working with students on the autism spectrum will find these resources and applications useful. Stay tuned all week to our Facebook and Twitter pages for even more resource suggestions.