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Help Children With Autism Build Skills With Adaptive Hardware for Computers

By Dr. Deborah Cutter

Computers can prove extremely useful as learning tools for students with autism. Find out all about the benefits and some of the hardware you might consider buying to take advantage of this technique.

The Potential Benefits

Children with autism are motivated by predictability and consistency which is why computers are the perfect assistive technology tool for learning. They put the child in the driver’s seat and facilitate learning and independent functioning. Research has found that students with autism who use computers have increased attention spans, can stay in their seats longer, develop improved fine motor skills, and show greater ability to generalize skills across environments (repeating a wanted behavior at home that was learned at school).

Adaptive hardware for computer use has also been instrumental in reducing excess behaviors such as agitation, perseveration (uncontrollable repetition) and self-stimulatory behaviors. Due to the enormous benefits computers can provide, they should be an integral part of a special education student’s daily curriculum, not just used for reward or play time.

Hardware That Can Help

Some children with autism may benefit from adapting a standard computer with certain devices that can make it easier for the child to use a computer. Here are some options:

A touch screen allows the child to touch the computer screen instead of using a mouse. With a touch screen the child’s actions produce changes on the monitor which increases the child’s understanding of cause and effect.

IntelliKeys® keyboard is a versatile enlarged keyboard that plugs into any Macintosh or Windows computer with a simple cable change. The child simply pushes various locations on an overlay enabling the user to easily type, enter numbers, navigate on-screen displays, and execute menu commands. The functionality and look of the keyboard can be changed by sliding in different overlays and customized overlays are available to design your own curriculum. For students who tend to press unwanted keys or keep their finger on a key too long, customized keyboard settings such as the response rate and the repeat rate can be changed to facilitate access.

Big Keys Keyboard is an alternative alphabet keyboard specifically designed with young children in mind. The keys are one inch squares that are color coded to make it easier to find specific keys. For example, vowels are all in yellow and consonants are in different colors. Big Keys Plus Keyboard is arranged in ABC order to make it easier for younger children to find the correct letter.

A foot mouse is a hands-free computer mouse that isfoot controlled which gives the user the ability to move the cursor and click the mouse buttons with their feet.

An ergonomic trackball comes in various shapes and sizes and allows a child to move the cursor around the screen by rolling a stationary "ball" around with either his fingertips or hand. Some children with autism initially learn how to carry out mouse operations with a trackball, and then eventually graduate to using a standard mouse.