Helpful Assistive Technologies for Students with Autism 

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In the United States, roughly 1 in 44 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a learning disability affecting people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite its prevalence, many of its causes remain unknown.

Individuals with autism may require additional support in order to fully engage in social and educational settings. Roughly 49,000 U.S. students with autism graduate from high school each year, but only 16,000 of those students go on to pursue higher education. Of those 16,000, studies show that only 38% will ultimately graduate from college. Educational institutions can and should be doing more to help these students reach their academic potential.

Fortunately, there are many accommodations that schools can offer to address these disparities in educational outcomes. Here’s how some of the different forms of assistive technology for students with autism can help.

Table of Contents:

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a wide range of conditions that can impact an individual’s behavior, learning abilities, social skills and more. ASD tends to present differently in different people. For example, some people with autism require minimal intervention. However, others require a significant amount of support in order to thrive in their daily lives. In some individuals, ASD is the result of a known genetic difference, but other causes of autism are less clear.

Those with ASD may experience sensory sensitivities, as well as other physical health conditions. Furthermore, research suggests that 30-80% of children with ASD also meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. The varied nature of ASD presentations likely contributes to the wide-ranging educational outcomes of students with autism. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting students with ASD. As a result, educational institutions must think outside the box in order to provide equitable learning experiences to students who require accommodations.

teacher in front of a classroom full of students

What Are Examples of Assistive Technology for Autism?

Educators have a wide range of options when it comes to assistive technology for autism spectrum disorder. Not every student will require high-tech assistive technology for autism. For example, some students benefit just from sensory aids like noise-canceling headphones.

Other students, particularly those with limited verbal skills, may require more advanced autism assistive technology like speech-generating devices (SGDs). SGDs come in many shapes and sizes. The most common SGRs involve tablets or computers that allow students to select images that convey the words or ideas they wish to communicate. These types of assistive technology for students with autism are relatively easy to use and can significantly improve a student’s ability to communicate in the classroom.

Other individuals with autism spectrum disorder benefit significantly from accessibility tools like captioning, transcription, and descriptive video/audio description. Here are a few ways these resources can help: 

Captioning refers to the process of converting audio to on-screen text. Adding captions to video content provides more equitable viewing experiences for all audience members. Captions are perhaps most commonly used to support viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing. However, there are many reasons why a student with ASD may wish to enable closed captioning. Captioning is a valuable assistive technology for autism in the classroom because it can support a wide range of course materials. From live classes to online lectures and more, captions offer another way to access information. Captioning recordings of online or in-person discussions can keep students with ASD engaged and help provide an equitable experience.  

Transcription is similar to captioning in that it is a means of converting speech to text. However, transcripts do not necessarily appear directly on the screen during a video. Also, transcript text might not match up with specific audio cues. Transcripts are essentially word-for-word records of audio or video content that instructors or producers can distribute in-person and online. These might support students with ASD and others who find it difficult to attend courses in person due to changing sensory sensitivities. In these cases, instructors can provide the class with an accurate transcript of a lecture or discussion to keep students from missing important information. Transcripts can also help students with ASD get the most out of additional course materials like educational videos or podcasts. Professional transcription services like Verbit can transcribe audio to text both in real time and after the fact. With this tool, students tuning in via video conferencing platforms will receive similar experiences to those who physically attend.  

Another great example of assistive technology for people with autism is descriptive video/audio description. Depending on where you live, people might use these terms interchangeably. In Canada, “audio description” describes a tool that uses voiceovers to read any on-screen text and to describe any visual graphics for viewers with low vision. In the United States, however, audio description and descriptive video both refer to an accessibility solution that uses voiceovers to provide a visual description of things that occur on screen. Descriptions may include people’s physical appearances, locations, specific body language and more. This tool provides equitable viewing experiences to individuals who are blind or low-vision. However, those with ASD can also benefit greatly from descriptive video. For instance, some individuals with ASD need additional support to interpret body language and social cues. Audio descriptions of behaviors that videos depict can also help them follow along and improve their understanding. This solution is a particularly valuable resource for instructors that use educational videos as supporting materials for their courses.

laptop, mobile phone , tablet and lamp on a table and assistive technology for autism

Captioning, Transcription and Audio Description: How Does it Work? 

Instructors interested in supporting their curriculum with accessibility technologies have a few different options for implementing these resources. A great way to streamline the process of incorporating these solutions is by partnering with professional transcription services like Verbit

Verbit offers a full suite of accessibility tools to support the diverse needs of today’s educational communities. By using highly advanced artificial intelligence in conjunction with a team of professional human transcribers, Verbit provides captions and transcripts with up to 99% accuracy. That accuracy level makes Verbit’s captions and transcripts useful for meeting accessibility guidelines like the ADA and Section 508.

Verbit’s transcripts are also interactive and searchable, making it easier for students to find the information they need. Additionally, Verbit’s live captioning and transcription support remote or hybrid courses. Verbit’s AI-powered Smart Player also offers standard and extended audio description for course videos.

view from the back of a man wearing headphones working on his laptop שמג assistive technology for autism

How Can Technology Help Students with ASD?

There is a wide range of benefits of assistive technology for autism. Providing several types of solutions can help to support the broad range of educational needs associated with autism spectrum disorders. Assistive technologies can help students with ASD communicate with their instructors and peers and engage fully with course materials. Also, as remote and hybrid learning environments become more common, the need for these technologies will only continue to grow.

It’s worth considering the high occurrence of overlap between ASD and other conditions like ADHD and auditory processing disorders as well. Students with comorbidities might need several accommodations. Multiple assistive technologies can work in tandem to meet each student’s unique needs.

There are also students with ASD who are able to function fairly well in a classroom setting. Still, these individuals may benefit from assistive technology for high-functioning autism. For example, a student with high-functioning autism who uses noise-canceling headphones in a class may benefit from real-time captions or a post-lecture transcript to ensure the headphones didn’t cause them to miss any important information.

school grounds full of graduating students

Fostering Inclusivity with Verbit

In recent years, the rate at which children are diagnosed with autism has been steadily increasing. As more students are diagnosed at an early age, learning institutions must take steps to prepare for an influx of future accommodation requests. Early detection and intervention are some of the best ways to contribute to improved educational outcomes for students with ASD. With the help of assistive technologies, ASD doesn’t have to hinder students’ desire to receive a quality education. Introducing students to assistive technologies early on can make it easier for them to adapt to their changing learning environments. Schools can help by making these resources more readily available. The right solutions can empower students to follow through with their educational endeavors and contribute to higher rates of graduation and post-secondary success.

Verbit’s team recognizes the need for easy-to-use, comprehensive accessibility technology. That’s why they offer a full suite of tools like captioning, transcription, audio description and more to support the dynamic needs of students and educators alike. Verbit’s platform integrates seamlessly with popular eLearning platforms and media hosting sites. With Verbit, educators can offer more accessible experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Ultimately, the best assistive technology for autism is the one that most readily addresses the specific needs of a particular student. Verbit’s platform makes it easy for instructors to offer solutions like PowerPoint captions and Zoom transcripts to improve the experiences of students with ASD and other specific learning needs. Reach out today to learn more about how Verbit is helping learning institutions around the world offer more inclusive educational environments for their communities.