Being able to use computers, phones and other gadgets for learning, leisure and keeping in contact with family and friends is important for all children and young people, including those with Autism Spectrum Conditions/Social Communication and Social Interaction difficulties.
Children and young people on the autism spectrum are often more motivated and show better concentration when using technology.
Technology can provide an effective tool for the child or young person to:
Access the curriculum
Support the understanding of language through visual support
Enable children and young people to learn at their own rate
Facilitate the organisation and production of work
Develop word processing skills to support the recording of work
Develop literacy skills including spelling, sentence structure, etc.
Promote independent learning
Stimulate talk and develop conversation skills
Provide opportunities to explore and develop social skills
Provide resources to manage anxiety, relax and regulate emotions
The limitations of technology
Children and young people with ASC can direct their own learning when using technology, but they might not direct it to the learning objectives.
There is limited value for developing generalised skills.
Repetition of playing of the same game may provide valuable downtime but is likely to be of limited value to their curriculum learning.
To reinforce learning you must identify what type of technology is to be used with an individual pupil (hardware and/or software) and for what purpose it will be used. An initial audit and assessment would be integral to this process.
This has implications for planning and preparation and involves allocated time for the explicit teaching of skills so that a pupil gains confidence and competency in using the technology.
Children and young people with ASC may lack the executive function to regulate their own technology use and they may therefore need support with appropriate use. Technology should always be used as just one in a range of approaches to contribute to a child or young person's learning, well-being and development.
Some groups of children are potentially more vulnerable and more at risk than others when using ICT. This can and does include children and young people with autism.
They can be guided to use the internet in educational, creative, empowering and fun ways, just like their peers. However, it is important to be particularly aware of vulnerability to e-safety risks.
Children and young people with Autism may make literal interpretations of content, which will affect how they respond.
Some children may not understand much of the terminology due to language delays or semantic/pragmatic difficulties.
Some children do not understand the concept of friendship, and therefore trust everyone implicitly. They do not know how to make judgements about what is safe information to share. This can lead to confusion about why you should not trust others on the internet.
Grown concern around cyber bullying: Children with autism may be more vulnerable to being bullied through the internet, and/or not recognise that they are being bullied.
In addition, some children/young people may not appreciate how their own online behaviour may be seen by someone else as bullying.
These remain challenging and complex issues. It is important that your school develops a clear policy and implements strategies for safe internet use as part of individual children's learning plan.
STAR SEN Toolkit, Childnet - practical advice and teaching activities to help educators explore e-safety with young people on the autism spectrum in Key Stage 3 and 4
NSPCC - online safety advice for parents
SMART - online safety rules for primary age children, from Childnet
Childnet - online safety tips for secondary aged children, from Childnet
SMART ASD: Matching Autistic People with Technology Resources - from Future Learn (University of Bath) free online course
Cerebra - play is safe infographic
Cyberbullying - tools for schools and information for parents and young people from the Anti-bullying Alliance
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