By: Steve Meany, CEO
The past decade has seen a steady increase in the prevalence of autism, Asperger’s, and Pervasive Development Disorder. Today, it’s estimated that one in 68 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. While there’s been a tremendous amount of awareness raised over the same time, there are still some misunderstandings about education and special needs kids.
One popular myth? That students with special needs cannot use the same technology as other students. In fact, children with special needs often have advanced technological skills and are frequently attracted to tech devices. Let’s look at the impact technology is having on special needs education – and how it’s opening the door to a future all students can participate in.
One Term, Many Definitions
When people hear the term special needs, they often assume it applies only to a deficiency in the student him or herself. But it’s important to think of the word “needs” as a noun, as in a technological tool that helps students accomplish tasks they would not be able to without the tool. For example:
- The barrier for students who struggle with reading is not that they cannot read, but rather that they are required to read to complete their lesson.
- The barrier for students who have motor control limitations is not that they cannot write, but that a pencil, pen, or keyboard is required to do the task.
- The barrier for students who have issues with memorizing facts is not that they did not learn the facts, but that they need to use those facts to complete the more complex objective of the lesson.
Fortunately, technological solutions are available to address these and other barriers students with special needs face.
Technology Solutions that Break Down Barriers
Incorporating personalized learning by bringing technology into the classroom increases all students’ motivation to learn and achieve. Recent innovative advances have improved traditional assistive tools to create technological solutions that give educators a much larger toolbox to work with. Some of the best include:
Universal Access Functionality
Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices offer students, including those with mobility limitations, the option to deploy or download assistive technologies such as speech recognition, Braille displays, text-to-voice solutions, and video conferencing for students who require sign language.
Special Needs Apps
Developed by the non-profit organization Autisum2Ability, App2Talk is a customizable app designed to help give voice to all non-verbal students. It offers 3 levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and allows users with limited or no expressive communication skills to communicate with educators and their peers. See. Touch. Learn. uses technology to replace flash cards, and Articulation Station helps students learn to articulate more clearly.
Up-to-Date Teaching Methods
There are a number of websites that offer both teachers and parents information and suggestions for using technology and other innovative methods in the classroom for students with special needs. Adapting for Autism is just one, sharing resources for working with kids with communication deficits and behavior challenges.
Most special needs students can and do benefit from technology in the classroom. When used properly, it’s a powerful teaching tool that engages students and elevates their learning, allowing them to achieve greater levels of independence, gain more confidence, and seek out new opportunities.