Nico is a Grade 8 student in the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows school district who hasn’t always found school meaningful. When he was first introduced to technology in Grade 2 he didn’t embrace it immediately.
However since then, with the support of his parents, the elementary school team and the vision of his education assistant, Shelli and others, Nico has developed a way to build understanding as he interacts with curriculum. He now has a way to participate; to show what he knows and is now working with some independence and confidence as he moves to high school.
To begin, understanding that children with autism are visual learners was the first step toward using technology as an effective tool for learning for Nico. Shelli helped Nico find meaning in lessons by pairing the teaching with pictures to help with comprehension and understanding. Sometimes this was done using Google images on the spot so that learning opportunities were not missed. The next step was a move to the use of pre-made activities from SET-BC’s online repository of curriculum activities CurriculumSET that matched classroom units, which allowed Nico to engage with the same concepts as his peers but at his learning level.
Using technology features like speech output and visual supports has helped Nico to become far more independent, compared to pen and paper tasks which are more daunting and unmotivating. Technology has allowed Nico to be able to refer back to information repeatedly, which has had a positive effect on Nico’s learning and has helped transition Nico from a passive and a non-initiating student to a very capable and motivated one.
He benefits from being pre-taught content that is about to be taught in class which helps him to anticipate and be successful during classroom learning activities. Shelli was quick to comment that there was a need to teach about the concepts, but there was also a need to build skills on how to approach a task and how to use software confidently as well. This involved her learning about Nico’s technology and being supported with release time for learning and receiving SET-BC training and collaboration as needed.
Nico uses Clicker, a software program that supports writing with visual and auditory supports and Powerpoint to demonstrate what his learning. Nico also uses Kurzweil for reading novels downloaded from the Accessible Resource Centre for auditory support when content is above reading level. The effective implementation of all of these assistive technologies have contributed to the toolbox of skills that Nico can use when learning and showing what he knows. More recently, the use of an iPhone with Dragon Dictate and/or Siri with very structured instruction on paragraph and story writing has further developed his ability to show what he knows. As typing is still slow for Nico, the move to using speech-to-text to assist with writing output has seen great improvement. Once the template and ideas are laid out, Nico has had significant success using the structured draft to use speech-to-text to complete the writing process.
Nico’s experience has been that technology has drawn others to him, thereby giving him social capital. His independence and confidence have soared and he now sees himself as a capable learner, as well as a capable writer. It takes a village to support the technology journey, but it starts with a first step and a vision that makes a difference possible.