Our technology-saturated world is not all fun and mobile games. Technological innovation has fundamentally changed business, healthcare, entertainment and just about every facet of life you can think of. Like every other powerful, global phenomenon, it has the potential to create great good as well as great harm. On the positive side of this spectrum, technology has been a huge boon to children and adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The right technology can help people on the autism spectrum improve their verbal skills, social skills, and develop confidence. Parents of autistic children should be relieved to know that by and large technology is not a harmful agent, but a tool to aid in their children’s development.
To understand why technology can help children with ASD, we must first look at ASD itself. The characteristics of ASD—diagnosed in one in 68 children—lend well to technological aids. Those on the spectrum often have difficulty with communication and trouble with social cues. They also tend to learn better through visuals than processing written or verbal information. This makes mobile technology especially useful, as it can be visually customized to help users communicate and give nonjudgemental directions and cues.
In education, technology is changing the game for special needs students. Apps like SceneSpeak and Speech with Milo help verbally challenged students keep up with curriculum. For those that may struggle in a traditional classroom setting, special schools like the STEM3 Academy develop immersive programs that help develop STEM skills in children with ASD. Given 34 percent of ASD college students pursue STEM majors, these technology-intensive programs nurtures students’ natural skills along with building collaborative and social skills.
Technology can help people with ASD overcome their social anxieties both in and out of the classroom. Personalized wearable technology, for example, can help autistic adults manage their anxiety. Research found that wearers of a wristband called “Snap” could fiddle with it, as people often do when anxious, then view the data to reflect on the anxiety’s cause. The custom-made device can also signal support-givers when the wearer’s anxiety is too high. Overall, it was found to be therapeutic to users.
For parents of younger children, technology is also a saving grace: smart homes provide relief for parents by monitoring movement to detect and notify when an autistic child wanders outside of range. Even more future-forward is virtual reality, which has been tested to help autistic children and teens develop social skills by putting them in virtual scenarios like interviews or first dates.
As much as naysayers may claim technology is destroying the fabric of society, for some of the most vulnerable among us it’s clear that the opposite is true. As we move into the future, we can expect this trend to continue supporting those that need it.