iPads in the Autism Classroom
I introduced iPads into my autism classroom and trialed using them for an entire year. I had taught the same students previously and knew the children quite well, as I was in a small school in Melbourne, Australia. A couple of my concerns were would my students interact with each other less, given they were on the spectrum and how I could ensure had very strong parameters for use? I was shocked, surprised and overjoyed with the impact on my students socially. Prior to iPads they would only interact with each other if they were asked to. They rarely spoke about the work they did nor did they share work with each other. Within the quarter, most of the students were actually interacting more as they were sharing what they were doing, excitedly talking about what they found in the app and showing each other new tricks using the iPad. (I forgot to mention I only used educationally based apps to begin with). They began talking to me more and were willing to accept more challenges, their confidence built, they were willing to take more risks as they learned and began to achieve more success. I was able to differentiate learning like I never could previously. It was easy to set up the iPad to suit each child's learning needs and learning skills. I believed the iPad could assist my students educationally but was not expecting the social benefits. Additionally, parents were informing me that for the first time their child was coming home talking about their day and the work they were doing. One child who spoke very little started reading words off the posters at the Mall. The other teachers saw a difference and eventually the whole school's population were supplied with iPads. However the device is only as good as the person driving it. A teacher still has to teach, a practitioner needs to still connect with their clients. I am completely on board that devices should not replace human interaction and socialization is an important skill. Based on experience here are my tips: Make sure you know why you're using iPads. What's your philosophy and rationale? What do want to achieve? What goals do you want to see met? Decide what apps you will use and learn how to use a few at a time. Take a course (www.tta.edu.au for my Australian clients, www.digitallearningtree2.com for my American clients). Go to YouTube to see how iPad apps work. Go to teaching blogs, OERs etc – and do your own research. The more confident you are using technology the more confident your students will be. Make sure you know an app well before you use it - 21st century kids know their technology and we need to be a step ahead. Create a place for success. Have very strict parameters to begin with; students with autism need visual schedules eg. Have a small visual showing app icon and next then another app icon then smiley face for finish. Use visual timers and say "you have this long using this app" point to app icon. If they overstep parameters then remove iPad and so on. Ensure your school has an iPad policy. We cannot throw out technology because it's a part of the fabric of society and kids with autism thrive in a success-filled environment.