How eLearning Transforms Education for Autistic Children
February 04, 2024
Autism spectrum is a neurological disorder that affects the way certain people process information. The condition can result in significant learning and behavioral challenges, including difficulty communicating and interacting with others. It’s estimated that 1 in 54 children has autism, and the number is rising.
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S., and it’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. A study published in the ResearchGate Journal shows that the disorder is more common in developed nations. Moreover, it is four times more common in boys than in girls.
Autism can impact how a child understands things, posing educational challenges. However, eLearning has proven to be an impactful solution for this. In this article, we will discuss how eLearning is transforming education for autistic children.
Understanding Autism Spectrum Education Challenges
It’s important to understand the specific challenges autistic children face in education. There are many differences between autistic and non-autistic children, but one of the most notable is their ability to communicate with others.
Here are some key challenges and considerations in providing education for individuals on the autism spectrum:
Sensory sensitivities: Many individuals with autism experience sensory sensitivities. This can include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimuli such as lights, sounds, textures, and smells. Classrooms may need to be adapted to accommodate these sensitivities, with considerations for lighting, noise levels, and sensory-friendly materials.
Communication differences: Communication challenges are common among individuals with ASD. Some may have delayed speech, while others may have difficulty with nonverbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions. Teachers may need alternative communication methods, such as visual supports, picture schedules, or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. An article from PsychCentral states that some differences in communication include a lack of eye contact and difficulty engaging in small talk.
Social skills development: Individuals with autism often struggle with social interactions and may have difficulty understanding social cues. Social skills training and structured social activities can be beneficial. Peer support programs and inclusion efforts can also help foster social development.
Individualized instruction: Due to the wide variability in the presentation of autism, one-size-fits-all approaches may not be effective. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are commonly used to tailor educational strategies and goals to the specific needs of each student. Regular assessment and adjustment of these plans are crucial for ongoing success.
Executive functioning challenges: Many individuals with ASD experience difficulties with executive functions, such as organization, time management, and task initiation. Teachers may need additional support, such as visual schedules, explicit instructions, and organizational tools.
The Rise of eLearning in Autism Education
The rise of eLearning in autism education is a welcome development. The benefits are clear: it’s a cost-effective way to meet the needs of children with disabilities, who often require more support. But this isn’t always an easy transition for autistic students. Several factors contribute to the growing prominence of eLearning in autism education:
Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs): eLearning platforms allow for creating highly individualized learning plans that cater to the specific needs and strengths of each autistic learner. Customization can include adjusting the pace of learning, incorporating multimedia elements, and adapting content to different learning styles.
Visual aids and multimedia resources: eLearning platforms often integrate visual aids and multimedia resources that can be particularly beneficial for autistic individuals, who often prefer visual learning. Videos, interactive simulations, and graphics can enhance understanding and engagement.
Flexibility and accessibility: eLearning provides flexibility regarding when and where learning can occur. This flexibility is crucial for autistic individuals, allowing them to learn comfortably and minimizing potential sensory challenges. Additionally, eLearning materials can be accessed repeatedly, reinforcing learning in a way that suits the individual’s pace.
Social skills training: Many eLearning programs for autism education incorporate social skills training modules. These modules may include interactive scenarios, virtual role-playing, and social stories that help autistic individuals develop and practice social skills.
eLearning also helps autistic individuals indirectly by allowing eligible individuals to get the necessary education and knowledge to help autistic children. According to Ithaca College, individuals with a degree in speech-language pathology can help educate autistic children. In fact, the website states that around 56% of the professionals with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology are in education.
SLPs can conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate the communication abilities of autistic children. This includes assessing speech and language skills and social communication skills. They can work collaboratively with other professionals, such as psychologists and educators, to contribute to understanding the child’s communication needs.
They can also develop and implement individualized treatment plans based on the specific needs of each autistic child. These plans may address speech articulation, language comprehension, social communication, and pragmatic language skills. They can collaborate with other educational team members to integrate speech and language goals with the child’s educational plan.
eLearning can help students interested in speech-language pathology learn all the details required to enroll in the right course. They can also enroll in an online course on an eLearning platform. Such speech-language pathologist college programs can enable qualified individuals to get the required license to start helping autistic children.
Customization and Personalization in eLearning
Personalization is a key component of eLearning that can help autistic children learn more effectively. This is because it allows them to engage with the material at their own pace and work in ways they are most comfortable with. This can include:
- Adjusting the presentation style of content and activities (e.g., video vs text)
- Providing opportunities for learners to interact with others online or through social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Allowing learners to create their digital portfolios based on what they have learned throughout their course.
Technology as a Facilitator in Autism Education
Technology can help autistic children learn, communicate, and socialize. It also helps them practice new skills and understand the world around them.
For instance, a ScienceDirect Journal study shows that up to 50% of autistic children have issues with inhibitory control challenges. This relates to a lack of ability to manage distractions and maintain concentration. Such children also have decreased perseveration.
However, with the technology, teachers can include multiple media files in the training material to improve engagement. This can increase autistic children’s concentration and help them learn more.
Here are several ways in which technology supports autism education:
Adaptive software: Technology allows for the creation of adaptive learning software that can adjust the difficulty and pace of lessons based on an individual’s progress. This ensures that the material is tailored to their needs.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices: Apps and devices that support communication through visuals, symbols, and text help non-verbal or minimally verbal individuals with autism express themselves.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): These technologies can create immersive environments that assist in sensory integration therapy, helping autistic individuals manage sensory sensitivities.
Educational Games: Technology enables the development of entertaining, educational games that promote learning and skill development.
However, one also has to keep in mind that children suffering from ASD also have intellectual disabilities. A study uploaded on the Frontiers Journal website concludes that 50% to 70% of autistic children have this disability. Intellectual disabilities affect their social, cognitive, and adaptive skills.
Thus, they have problems participating in research-based activities.
Hence, teachers and parents need to select the right technology that can help autistic children instead of overwhelming them. A platform or software with a simple User Interface (UI) is required to ensure easy navigation. Tech applications with complicated UI might not be able to be of much help in educating autistic children.
As we’ve seen, eLearning is a powerful tool for helping autistic children to learn. It allows them to be engaged in their learning process and progress at their own pace. The classroom environment can also be more inclusive of people with special needs by using technology such as speech-to-text dictation software. This can make it easier for them to understand different concepts and learn quickly.
If you found this article interesting, check out Higher Education: Using AI to Meet Student Needs.
Featured image: Jatuporn Tansirimas, iStock.