Apps and Autism: How Mobile Applications are Fostering Learning for Students


Part One: Engagement and Socialization

Any special education teacher or educational assistant will tell you that one of the most challenging development conditions a student can be affected with is autism.  Autism, a neural developmental disorder that affects information processing in the brain, is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviour. Autism does not describe one condition, but rather a spectrum of pervasive developmental disorders that are generally diagnosed in early childhood.  Because of the social impairments and restricted communication displayed by many people with autism, it can be very challenging for educators to find tools that can help them to meet their learning needs.

Recently, there has been a new piece of technology that has been described as no less than revolutionary by educators who work with children with autism: tablet computers.  Many schools have begun to adapt this high-tech solution to a difficult challenge, and are finding that tablet computers loaded with mobile applications are able to reach autistic students in new ways…

  • A Better Way to Engage Students.

Traditional methods of teaching students with autism have been less than optimal.  Because of the social challenges that they encounter, it can be difficult for the teachers of students with autism to direct their attention to learning materials.  Tablet computers offer some distinct advantages.  Vocabulary building apps, offer a level of interaction that the students appear to be more comfortable with.  They interact with their learning devices, but do not get swept up in it, the same way they might with a video.

The consistency offered by the apps is also something that students with autism find helpful.  For students who do not have a strong understanding of social actions and reactions, the predictability of an app that gives feedback, such as applause and verbal praise for correct answers, is comforting.

  • They Can Improve Social Skills

Children with autism are diagnosed and characterized by a diverse spectrum of developmental disabilities, but in the majority of cases, the most evident is a distinct social deficit.  This can range from a lack of understand about socially acceptable behavior, to an inability to make eye contact.  In all cases, educators work to include social skills building activities into the individual education plans of autism students.  In the last two years, since the release of the first generation Apple iPad, educators have had a powerful new tool to help socialize students with autism.

“We use social situation apps extensively” Explains Matt Dierickse, an educational assistant for the Niagara District School Board.  “Facial expressions, body language, vocal differences, are all things that kids with autism find difficult.”  While in the past, students would be asked to write or verbally explain a social story, this has been replaced by app-based learning.  “Now we use the apps and they are more visual and realistic, so kids see it firsthand.”


Andrew Baxter is a Secondary School Teacher and Curriculum Specialist for Enable Education.  He uses his tablet computer to play Tetris.


Classroom 4 Technology 7

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