iPads, notepads and a note about teaching methods

Filed Under (Autism and Learning, Communication, Computing/iPad) by Estee on 07-08-2012

Adam’s iPad wasn’t working for a few hours over the weekend. It has been also phasing in and out — photos disappear then reappear. He uses his camera for his Pictello stories.

Meet a non verbal person — autistic or otherwise, and you’ll see an array of devices at their disposal. Some are more convenient to talk with, often one conks out or something happens. It’s technology. We need more than a reliance on the iPad.

I love the iPad. I’ve been teaching Adam to read a clock on and off for a while now. A sole reliance on “verbal behaviour” or output is not reliable. I had asked Adam to tell me the time. Now that I have the iPad, there is a “show me 4:30,” etc, and he can pick from an array of five possibilities. He gets 100%. I do, however, have to tell him to “pick only one.” That instruction works like a charm as he then understands that I’m not asking him to fool around and listen to kurplunks of wrong answers just for the fun of it.

I work between the iPad and the “hard copy.” The iPad and computer programs are very helpful to teach and now to refine Adam’s ability to listen to the instruction. As his part-time teacher, I model the correct response for him, and this makes it easier.

I’ve often noted that multiple choices are the way to go to determine his knowledge, as well as presentation. I believe Adam has taught himself many “subjects” and I get this confirmation every day. Here’s another example:

I used to ask Adam to do word searches with me on paper. You have to read the word and find it in a jumble of letters across, down or diagonally. Adam would seem never to be able to do it. Now on the iPad, he scans and finds the words faster than I can. I didn’t know he knew how to do it and I used to think he didn’t understand when it was just those paper-kind of word-searches. I also consider that having to draw a circle around a word was very challenging for him. He is still working on his fine motor control. I think about all the effort it must take to circle a word, that then that becomes enough. That action in itself distracts from the actual word search game. It’s like asking a non verbal autistic child to “tell time.” It’s just so hard to get out, then when the answer comes out, it may be incorrect.

Another anechdote from the movie The Brain: A Secret History (the title of the episode here reads “The Broken Brain” so I’m going to ignore the ignorance of that title for that is a social judgment of that which we still do not fully understand) A brain injured patient is asked to show, on his fingers, what number is being shown. On his fingers, the individual answers correctly by showing four fingers. Then, he is asked to say the number he says six. It’s to me, exactly the same thing that happens to an autistic individual with verbal communication challenges, well, of Adam anyway. Often he knows the right answer but he just can’t say it, or it comes out as the wrong answer.

I know that teaching has to be fun and interactive. I’m now at a stage where I’m going to have Adam tell me all about a story he has read with me. After that, I’ll be working on some narration of his own. It’s a process of picking up what I’ve read, using what I have at our disposal, some common sense and love at watching him grow and develop. Over the course of this summer, I’ve also noted that when we educate autistic children, we forego the academics for controlling the behaviour. I’m starting to believe again that attention can be accomplished through active engagement, following the interests of the child, no matter how “odd” they may seem, and building the necessary skills this way through visual suppport, parental and teacher support, love and yes, devices. Feel free to add to this list.

The iPad reminded me that to rely on it alone is risky. We need the support, back-ups and a variety of presentations that help with learning and communicating.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.