OCT 15, 2020

Autism and Technology

Technology is becoming a bigger and bigger part of everyone’s day-to-day lives and changing the way we do everything from shopping to socializing. For people on the autism spectrum, however, technology can be an even bigger game-changer. Here’s a primer on the most vital things to know about technology’s impact on the autism community.

Is the increasing use of technology a good thing for people with autism?
In general, yes. As a 2019 report from National Institutes of Health points out, “People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to enjoy themselves and be engaged when interacting with computers, as these interactions occur in a safe and trustworthy environment.” Specifically, as research into the tech space grows in general, there’s been a trend toward developing more and more assistive technologies for people with ASD.

What is assistive technology?
So what exactly is assistive technology? According to the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, an assistive technology is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

For people with ASD, assistive technology often focuses on supporting and enhancing communication. Common assistive technology for people with ASD can include everything from very low-tech devices like visual boards and assistive writing tools to things that fall more in what we commonly consider the tech sphere, like speech-generating devices for people with ASD who can’t use spoken language and even apps that can help promote communication and social skills, like Proloquo2Go, an Augmentative and Alternative Communication App that helps nonverbal individuals express basic needs.

How can technology help people with ASD?
Technology can help people with ASD can have a profound impact on independence and basic daily functioning by helping them improve in a number of areas, from communication and social skills to organizational and academic skills. Some specific ways technology can help people of all ages with ASD include:

  • Organization and time management: Visual schedules and calendars are easy to create in apps and these can be a great tool for people with ASD looking to establish and maintain routines and develop their time management and organizational skills.
  • Advocacy: Communication is important in just about any situation, but, especially for people with disabilities, this becomes especially true when it comes to self-advocacy. Technology that assists people with ASD with communication, including speech devices that can literally give a non-verbal person a voice, can help individuals with ASD participate more actively in making decisions about their lives and give them a greater level of independence.
  • Video modeling: Many people with ASD are visual learners and video modeling can help children in particular in practicing and even mastering important life skills.
  • Socializing: Many people with ASD struggle with social interactions, but for some, those interactions are easier online and via social networking than in traditional face-to-face communication. Social networking technologies can give people with ASD a more comfortable space to connect with others and practice communication skills that can translate to in-person interactions as well.

What’s next for autism and technology?
According to the National Institutes of Health’s 2019 review of 94 studies of the use of technology to help people with ASD, most new research in this area is “focused on supporting children with ASD by using technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, virtual agents, sensors, and geolocation through educational games” and these studies “emphasize teaching different skills to people with ASD in educational contexts.” The most popular area of research when it comes to autism and tech are studies focused on using technology to help people with ASD learn social skills, but the NIH review suggested that, in the future, more studies will need to focus on developing solutions for teaching conceptual and practical skills to people with ASD.