Autism and Technology: How Digital Devices Help Children

Can technology help children with autism? Our answer is a strong and definitive, yes.

Whether you’re a young child or senior citizen, chances are you have some experience using modern technology. Today’s digital technology has enormous benefits for youngsters, particularly those with autism and other learning disorders.

In this article, we’ll discuss alternative communication strategies, assistive technology and how technology helps autism caregivers to provide better care for children on the spectrum.

Please keep in mind these techniques are from our own research and experiences. While one method may work for one child, it may be as effective for another. We recommend consulting with professionals when introducing a new educational tactic and always staying mindful of your child’s unique needs and abilities.

All about Alternative Communication Strategies

When a child has problems developing language and speech abilities, alternative communication strategies can help them make their needs and their desires known.

It’s hard to understate the fundamental importance of this development. A child that can’t communicate at a basic level with the people around them, maybe negatively impacted educationally, socially and with regards to subsequent life skills.

Technology can help children on the spectrum communicate far more effectively, and the advent of cheap tablets and smartphones are game-changers. Why? Because they’re not as hefty or expensive as traditional alternative communication strategy equipment.

Not only that, but a device that you can carry around in the palm of your hand is far more convenient.

Many children with communication issues are fully capable of communicating relatively complex ideas in sentences. The reason for the issue, instead stems from a delayed ability to verbalize those ideas. Fortunately, a touch screen is a much easier way to communicate for kids that have issues verbalizing. That’s because it’s simpler to touch and tap a screen than type out everything they need to say.

Digital technology can help children with autism talk to others through text-to-voice applications text messages or email, which allows them to make their needs known faster and more clearly. The result? A more adaptable and motivated youngster!

The more that kids with autism use communication technology, the more likely they are to succeed at school and in the community. The empirical evidence suggests that the average child diagnosed with autism are more at ease communicating with an inanimate device such as:

  • A computer
  • A cell phone
  • An iPad

Young people with autism, who struggle verbally, are often inspired to learn visually. Technology has proven to be a key part of this visual process.

How Technology Helps Learners with Autism

For a long time, the primary use iPads was games and entertainment. However, the use of iPads quickly expanded to include the education community.

Although there are a few options for autism related apps, and children with autism continue to use digital devices and alternative communication strategies daily, there is still a huge need to be filled by technology.

Technology can benefit kids with autism by sharpening their learning, social and video skills. In addition, it can reinforce their speech and language therapies, while improving their visual, fine motor and life skills.

Other perks of autism and technology assimilation include:

  • A better understanding of their surroundings
  • Expressing themselves clearly
  • Increased social skills
  • Enhanced attention to detail

But wait, there’s more. Autism-friendly technology can also help youngsters:

  • Develop higher self-esteem
  • Increase motivational skills
  • Create organizational skills
  • Boost daily independence and functioning

What is Assistive Technology?

The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 describes assistive technology as any device that can assist those with disabilities.

Assistive technology includes a variety of different technologies, of which we will cover just a few.

Children with autism often have an easier time processing visual data rather than listening to audio information. This means that the assistive technology on iPads and other handheld devices, which is usually visual, is targeting learning through many children’s strongest learning center.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t.

First, know that there are different levels of assistive technology. They range from:

  • Low-tech strategies
  • Medium-tech strategies
  • High-tech strategies

That’s why it’s essential to introduce every level of technology to an autism-friendly learning environment.

Can assistive technology help children with autism?

Absolutely. For starters, a professional must evaluate your child to determine how assistive technology can help them. This evaluation can be done by:

  • Your child’s school or educational institution
  • A private special needs agency
  • A personalized autism consultant

In an autism evaluation, your child’s strengths and weaknesses will be analyzed by a professional in the autism field. Assistive technology can then be suggested, and even funded, in order to allow your child to work in their classroom material effectively.

Professor and autism researcher Temple Grandin explains that many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder see photos as their primary language. That means that words might come secondary to them, so assistive technology can help youngsters overcome social, learning and environmental barriers at school.

Digital Learning Strategies for Children with Autism

When it comes to digital learning strategies for kids with autism, it’s crucial to focus on the three categories of assistive technology: low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech.

Low-tech strategies, include visual tools that don’t require any electricity at all. For instance, whiteboards, clipboards, file folders, binders and photos are all great examples of low-tech game plans for the classroom.

When low-tech strategies are used, it can boost organizational and motivational skills in children with autism. Meanwhile, their behavioral and independence skills are being strengthened too!

Mid-tech strategies have to do with battery-operated devices like a projector, a calculator, a tape recorder, a voice output system or a Language Master.

Most mid-tech devices involve Voice Output Communication Aids. Technically this is referred to as to an “augmentative means to expressively communicate.”

Here are a few examples of Voice Output Communication Aids:

  • The Talk Pad
  • The Voice in the Box
  • The Big Mack

What it all boils down to is increasing the language, communication and social skills of children with autism.

High-tech strategies can include more complicated equipment such as a computer, a video camera and a set of voice output systems. They can help kids with autism develop body language, facial expressions and vocal skills.

Why Kids with Autism Use Technology

In today’s society, kids with autism are familiar with everyday devices such as computers, cell phones and iPads, and as we’ve discussed, these tools can also be used as alternative communication strategies.

Children on the autism spectrum, just like neurotypical children, enjoy playing games, watching videos on their personal devices. However, what if their cell phones could actually help them learn in the classroom?

Enter assistive technology. Although it’s been around since the late 1980s, it’s only recently that autism apps became available for kids with disabilities.

How can you help your little one with autism adjust to everyday life?

Introduce low-tech strategies, medium-tech strategies, and high-tech strategies to your children, and see which resonate with them the best.

Autism and Technology Together

Wondering how autism and technology go hand-in-hand? Digital therapy for autism is the latest trend that’s helping little ones become more adapted and motivated in their daily environments.

Alternative communication strategies can help children with autism develop higher self-esteem, increase motivational skills and boost their daily independence and functionality.

There is no one size fits all approach, so we strongly encourage parents and educators to experiment with different technologies and see which works best for their child’s unique needs.