There is good reason for all of the buzz about the effectiveness of using apps and technology to help younger children who are affected by autism. Unfortunately, there has been little attention paid to how teens and college students with autism — or those who are transitioning from their parents’ home to living independently — can benefit from technology. For these transitioning teens and young adults on the autism spectrum, technology is a powerful asset, though we still know very little about how to optimize technology for teens and college students with autism.
Dana Reinecke, Assistant Professor and Department Chair at The Sage Colleges, wrote an excellent blog post for Edutopia a while back that describes some of the advantages of using technology to educate teens and young adults on the autism spectrum and improve their independence. Reinecke points out that public schools are able to help these young people develop problem solving, communication, and other life skills until the age of 21. After the age of 21, however, the systems in place for young adults affected by autism are designed with safety and maintenance in mind. Technologies that support communication, independent living skills, and personal and academic growth can be a part of helping many of these young people achieve higher levels of autonomy and personal development.
Technology offers tremendous opportunities for communication and interaction that, until recently, have been very difficult for teens and college students with autism. The ability to communicate electronically — to use Skype, Facebook, and texting as tools for one-on-one communication — is extremely important for young adults who find face-to-face communication awkward and stressful. There are a variety of powerful apps that improve communication skills for those who have more serious difficulties. Perhaps most importantly, the accessibility, capability, and engaging nature of this kind of technology mean that many ASD teens and college students are motivated to use them to more effectively connect with their world.
Academic and educational interventions are also possible thanks to technology. Online courses, digital learning platforms, and video teaching models can be highly effective tools for teens and college students with autism. Students who might struggle with some of the social and participatory demands of the classroom may benefit greatly from being able to take an online class or communicate with their peers through forums, social networking platforms, and online collaboration services like Google Drive
Reinecke also makes a strong point about the fact that high school and college students on the autism spectrum find school difficult because each teacher does things a little differently. There isn’t one set of rules; there are multiple dynamics and preferences to maneuver. Educational tools that provide uniformity and a set of regular expectations across courses allow for students to “focus on material rather than worrying about relearning systems and procedures with each new professor in each new class,” she explains. Given the executive functioning difficulties usually observed in teenagers and college students with autism — mainly in the areas of flexibility, planning, and self-awareness — it only makes sense that educators and parents use technology to try to alleviate this burden as much as possible.
It’s about time that we go beyond the needs of young children affected by autism and look at how to use technology to help teenagers and college students on the spectrum as well. Some of our favorite apps and services for self improvement, organization, and expression include iTunesU, YouNote, and Tumblr. Technologies like these offer young adults affected by autism clear opportunities for establishing independence while assisting them in remaining fully engaged and connected with their peers and families. More importantly, these technologies encourage success which, in turn, raises self-esteem. When we take into account the emerging need for more and more technologists in the work force, it is not a stretch to imagine many new jobs that fit the resultant skill sets of young adults on the spectrum.