You only have to watch the news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper to know that the risks for young people online are becoming even more complex. This shouldn’t deter you from harnessing the powerful potential technology offers, nor should you feel discouraged from supporting your child as they navigate the digital sphere.
In our experience, children and young people of all ages who have additional needs are no different in their desire to engage new technology, and with the right support and supervision they can. As technology evolves and our understanding of it improves, we realise it has the potential to be a force for good. A powerful force that can empower young people living with autism and those that care for them.
Autism is a lifelong condition that can affect how we understand and interact with the world around us, including how we communicate with other people. At the time of writing our Safer Schools community is made up over 1 million teachers, parents, carers and pupils, and this number is growing every week as more schools in England, Scotland and Wales join.
About 1% of the world’s population live with an autistic spectrum condition, so we know that many of our Safer Schools families will be living with Autism. Throughout the school year we are committed to developing more resources for them.
Here are 5 ways you can use technology to support individuals on the autistic spectrum.
1. An Emergency Chat App for those who are feeling overwhelmed
Individuals on the spectrum can struggle to communicate verbally when feeling heightened emotions, often referred to as a “Meltdown”. As stated on the App stores, the Emergency Chat app has a splash screen with “base text that explains to the person you gave your phone to that you can’t use speech and want to use this App to communicate. The default text is aimed at people experiencing an autistic meltdown, where their speech centres stay non-functional for a while even after they’ve recovered.”
Before using this App research it for yourself; you can begin with this review from the App Store.
Available on the Apple App store and Google play: £Free
Review on the App Store:
“I literally just had a really bad shutdown last night because of my anxiety and couldn’t talk for hours. A lot of my friends don’t sign (I do) and that made it really hard to communicate with them – it’s been an issue in my life for a really long time and I’m so glad I found this App!
“It’s literally what I’ve been needing and I love that the message screen is customizable so that I can explain what’s happening to me specifically. I wish I’d had this last night! THANK YOU.”
2. ‘Choiceworks’ is a Visual System App for those who need their daily routine
When matched to the needs of the individual, structure and routine can reduce stress and anxiety in those on the autism spectrum. The picture-based learning app Choiceworks, can support these needs in a digital visual system.
The App “helps children complete daily routines, understand and control feelings, improve their waiting skills and make choices.”
Available on the Apple App store: £6.99
Review on the App Store:
“I never thought I would see the day my son would dress himself, but after using this app he has been dressing himself and trying to beat the time every day. I love that you can add your own daily schedule images and record your own voice. This is such an important aspect of this app as my son takes everything literally so every single task has to be on his daily schedule.”
3. Sound cancelling/blocking headphones for those that are sensitive to noise
Individuals who are sensitive to sound may benefit from noise-cancelling headphones. Different types of headphones will suit different individuals, for example one person may prefer in-ear headphones and another may prefer over-ear headphones.
Read through threads on Austism.org’s community section on their favourite headphones.
4. Learn Makaton to communicate with those who are non-verbal
Makaton is a universal sign language that allows users to communicate with signs and symbols. The Makaton Charity states that “Children and adults can communicate straight away using signs and symbols. Many people then drop the signs or symbols naturally at their own pace, as they develop speech.”
If you are interested in learning Makaton, the charity has active social media channels that teach different signs every week and a growing library of signs on their YouTube channel.
For younger children, spend some of their allocated daily screentime watching Mr Tumble on Something Special. He uses Makaton signs and symbols throughout the programme.
5. Raise awareness in young children with Pablo
Pablo is an animated cartoon, about an autistic boy who draws imaginary animals to help him handle situations that make him feel uncomfortable. Voiced solely by individuals on the autistic spectrum, the characters within the show represent different traits of the spectrum, for example, the Llama repeats things that people say, an Autistic trait known as Echolalia.
Pablo’s Art World Adventure game can be found in the CBeebies Playtime Island app. For more information, visit the ‘Younger Children’ section of your app.
Signposting to Support for those on the Autistic Spectrum
We have compiled a list of regional autism support services across the United Kingdom in this downloadable PDF.