How Does Technology Help Autism?

How does technology help autism?

Are we preparing our students with autism for the past or the future?

I had a conversation with a teacher of some teens on the Autism Spectrum.  She stated, “My students will never have a cell phone.”  Was her opinion short sighted?

Here are some statistics about what is happening in our tech-social world for our general population.

  • More kindle books sold than “real books” during the last holiday season
  • 79 percent Americans shop online
  • 245 Billion active users on Facebook
  • 61% of social media users access social media content from their mobile phone
  • US cell phone users send more texts than they do phone calls

And here is one of the most important statistics
Most people check phone last thing before go to bed and first thing in the morning.

What does this have to do with autism?
Social skills training is one of the most requested services for students with autism. Here’s the important question. What social world are we preparing our students for? Who are they going to be socializing with? How do those people socialize?

The social world is changing
Those changes are happening quickly. Technology has rapidly become a major tool for managing social relationships. What percentage of social interaction occurs without people even seeing each other? How does that happen? Phone calls? Text messages? How does the presence of a cell phone affect the interaction between two people who are physically in the same location? What takes precedence – the phone or the person standing next to you? What are the new rules for social interaction?

What do we need to teach?
We know that our students on the spectrum frequently need help to learn the communication and behavior skills necessary to handle social situations in positive ways. Parents desire for their children to have friends. So, what do we need to teach our students with ASD to help them “join in” to the ongoing social activity that surrounds them?

It’s not an easy question to answer
First, we need to identify what the new social environment is. There are lots of variables. And there will be lots of individual answers to questions about what to teach. The goal here is not passing a value judgment on the use of technology for social interaction. Instead, it’s an attempt to recognize what is currently occurring and then deciding how to work with it. Are we preparing our students for a social world that existed in the PAST? Are we helping them learn skills that WE want them to have? Or are we looking forward to what skills they will need to have next year? Two years? Five years or more???

And it’s not all socialThese comments are targeting the social dimensions of phone usage.  The use of technology for time management, accomplishing life skills and other personal activities leads to more ways to evaluate how technology can assist our students on the autism spectrum.  How does technology help autism? Are you exploring all the ways?

How do you address this situation?
Please comment. What do you think?

This article has been updated from when it was originally published. As you can imagine, the percentages of technology use have increased significantly from when the original article was written.

P.S. A college student who used to work for me just had an interview for a summer job. She applied for the job by filling out an application online. Then they did the interview on Skype.  Are you teaching the kind of skills to be able to do that?

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  1. I was impressed by what you had written which made interesting reading. It is the reality, even in
    my country, Sri Lanka, one can notice what the new technology has made for the youth – is it
    advancement or deterioration? The reality is sadly the ‘Cell Phone’ addiction, where the respecter of
    the person is not maintained!!

    Sincerely yours


  2. Thanks for the article. IMHO, I think it’s horrendous how people can’t even have a meal together without constantly checking their gadgets. I am one for never promoting this behavior, regardless of concerns I may have about my child’s ability to socialize. With so many more activities filling up our lives now, the time we spend together in person is so precious. We can survive the short time at a meal without reading relatively meaningless messages and checking trivial news stories. I prefer that my child be strong socially when actually with people rather than practicing their texting skills.
    Just my 2 cents.

  3. I absolutely think we must be teaching students with Autism, as well as other disabilities, to have and use technology, including phones. Most social interaction takes place via phones, and in my experience with students on the spectrum, the technology helps to mediate the social interaction in a positive way. Do some kids become obsessed with the game aspect? Yes, but as the parents and teachers, we need to help them manage this.

    Additionally, there are so many positive apps that could help a person with ASD become more independent – calendars, timers, maps, reminders, etc, etc, etc….. People with disabilities deserve to be as much a part of the world of technology as the rest of us.

    1. Agree. There are so many apps to help with personal independence. Playing games is just a very small part of the potential.

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