Critter Corner: How Technology Can Make Life Easier for Those with Autism

Dear Oakley,

Our son was just diagnosed with autism and is nonverbal. What types of technology can help make life easier for him and for us?

Thanks for your help,

Hal Pinhimm

Dear Hal,

For people on the autism spectrum, assistive technology can help in many different areas of life, including basic communication; managing schedules; learning and using social skills; managing sensory challenges; staying safe; and instrumental activities of daily living (managing household chores and self-care).

Luckily, there’s a lot of technology available for the areas described above. Below is a list of just some of the ways technology can help a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

Communication: The most common use of technology to help those with ASD is for communication. Please see today’s article for some examples of communication devices. There are also hundreds of apps that can help support individuals with autism at all levels and abilities. When it comes to apps, some apps for example are geared toward a nonverbal child or adult, while other apps are geared to help with social cues for individuals with strong verbal communication skills.

Visual schedules/supports: Visual schedules/supports can be a great tool to help your child complete tasks and work on skills such as self-care and daily living. For example, a visual schedule for a morning routine can help a child learn to get up, get dressed, brush teeth, and everything in between. Visual schedules can also be very helpful in helping your child learn independent living skills.

Safety: Many children with autism, and some adults with more severe autism, are at risk for eloping (running away). Children with autism can be very good at manipulating locks, and even babyproofing may not be enough to keep them indoors. In addition to ordinary door chains, baby gates, and latches, many families use ID bracelets and tracking devices to maintain safety.

Sensory Challenges: Sensory challenges in people with autism can result in over- or under-responsiveness to sensory input. Apps are commonly used for sensory “breaks.” These tend to be simple tools that allow you to do things like pop bubbles, meditate, follow images with your eyes, or play repetitive music. A few helpful apps include Brainworks, Miracle Modus, and Heatpad.

Learning and Executive Functioning: According to Autism Speaks, 31 percent of children with ASD have an intellectual disability. More than 30 percent are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and up to 40 percent experience some level of anxiety. These issues, added to the core symptoms of autism (which include speech, social, and sensory challenges), create some significant issues in school and in the workplace.

There are many types of software and apps that are intended to help visual learners think, write, and communicate. Lucidchart is mind-mapping software that is used to make connections among ideas and turn those connections into usable outlines. Speech-to-text software can also be useful, as can tools specifically created for students with learning disabilities. Examples include LiveScribe and Dragon Home.

Hope this is helpful!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.