Technology and Autism

Over the past fifty years we have witnessed the development of technology. Today, we are in the era of understanding its educational implications. Technology is not only capable of communicating concepts. It enable children to overcome barriers that prevent them from understanding the world and exercising control over it.

Instead of being passive recipients of instruction, children who understand what technology can do and learn how to use it as a tool will become active participants in their own education. While simple devices that augment communication enable children to make their needs known and indicate choice, interactive technology enhances the sense of self and opens up a world of opportunity that children can explore independently.

Children must be helped to understand and then to master technology. Parents can aid in this process by serving to guide, then tutor and finally mentor children as they slowly master the tools.

The easiest place for a parent to start the process is by using video to engage attention. For years, I would videotape my students engaging in special activities such as school trips as well as mundane activities such as class lessons. Watching our videos together stimulated lots of interest, fun and discussion. But “home” videos weren’t suitable for teaching new material. So I collected Youtube videos that focused on discrete steps in complex skills such as personal hygiene. Searching for proper clips was tedious but the results were well-worth the effort.

I introduced tooth brushing with a clip that captured student attention. I would show the clip to the class while monitoring their response. Some children were hooked immediately. Pre-verbal students would indicate they wanted to see it again. Regardless of student “level”, showing this brief clip was enough to get students to consider me to be the agent controlling something they liked. My hope was to get them to understand that they could acquire the knowledge and power to control the technology themselves.

I added clips focusing on the steps in the complex skill: the proper way to brush, how to rinse and the importance of brushing. Next, I compiled a folder containing clips related to sneezing: a woman sneezing for a full minute, clips on germ transmission, hand washing and a humorous clip from an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. At first, selecting clips was a hit-or-miss proposition that was not always successful. Some were box office flops. I began to see that children responded differently and to different aspects of the experience. Some were attracted by the sound. Others were indifferent to sound. Some were drawn by motion. Others by content. But I was beginning to discriminate individual learning preferences, rates of learning and to better understand the nature and degree of prompting each child required to progress. I got better at the selection process.

Regardless of whether your child has any computer skills or not, viewing Youtube videos together is a great opportunity for bonding, social interaction, stimulating language and sharing a FUN experience. When you are ready to give it a whirl, choose a simple task you want to teach. Then research clips that you feel would appeal to your child. Watch your child closely for signs of interest.

It’s not difficult to find gems like this

Introducing a new skill. This clip incorporates all the elements needed to capture your child’s attention to prepare him to learn: Animation, humor, music, and modeling of the skill in question

The power of the moving image. The teacher models a skill for the class.. A clip of their reaction is shown to Joseph, a pre-verbal 17 year-old who previously had shown no interest in the computer. Joseph was so motivated that he learned how to use the mouse to replay the video for himself. This is the first step in enabling a child to demonstrate volition and direct his own education.

View additional sample clips

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October 25, 2011 Logically, if light and sound have the power to stimulate, calm or regularize us, we should be

able to tap into this same energy for therapeutic purposes. But, what is this “normal” state we are attempting to “return to”?  

Consciousness .. that continuous, internal dialogue combining “prize-fight announcer” reporting on the body and its’ physical  surroundings with and self-talk as the mind contemplates what to focus upon.  Are my senses confirming:

  • danger?   If so,fight or flee.
  • continuity of perceived context?  Am I still the same person I was a micro-second ago? Is the world different than I believe it should be at this moment?
  • it is a safe time to reflect.  If so, I will think about my thinking.

What happens to our Consciousness when our senses are no longer or reliable?  We understand that certain chemicals, or their absence can alter our state of consciousness.  Can we draw analogies to the sensory system?  What are the effects of exposure to aggravating stimulation or an inability to process sensory signals properly?

Here’s some food-for-thought before passing judgment on new therapeutic approachs to Sensory Integration.

Sacks’ investigation into unusual sensory cases, which fills eleven volumes, are summarized here along with quotes lifted directly from the Wikipedia:

 Dr. Sacks interview  at the Harvard Book Store  from NPR Radio

Migraine (1970)  Sacks describes the nature of and treatments for migraine particularly examining the visual aura feature that is common to many sufferers, along with the premonitorys, a type of extrasensory perception that would involve the acquisition or effect of future information that cannot be deduced from presently available and normally acquired sense-based information or laws of physics and/or nature.[5

Awakenings (1973)   Recounts the life histories of victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic and Sacks’ the amazing events that followed 40 years later when he administered L-DOPA, a new drug, to help these patients.

A Leg to Stand On (1984)   Sacks’s own experience, after an accident, of losing the awareness of one of his legs

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985)   The title of the book comes from the case study of a man with visual agnosia.[1] , the inability to recognize familiar objects or faces. Twenty-four essays dealing with brain deficits and excesses as well as to spontaneous reminiscences, altered perceptions, and extraordinary qualities of mind

 Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (1989)  Explores the past and present events that shape the world of deaf people in the United States and contemplates a Sign language and it’s striking concomitant enhancements of perception implying the resourcefulness of the human species.  Sign is not only a language but the very medium of deaf culture.

An Anthropologist on Mars (1995)  Case histories of autism and Tourette’s Syndrome.  Essays explore historical case studies of patients both in and oput  outside the hospital, often traveling considerable distances to interact with his subjects in their own environments. Sacks concludes that “defects, disorders, [and] diseases… can play a paradoxical role, by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence.

The Island of the Colorblind (1997)   Exploration of a society where congenital colorblindness is the norm and home to a strange neurologic malady resembling Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001)

A memoir

Oaxaca Journal (2002)  A trip to see ferns in Mexico turns into a meditation on Mesoamerican civilization, chocolate, agriculture, mescal, amateur naturalists and more.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007)

… Sacks turns to the intersection of music and neurology — music as affliction and music as treatment… Sacks, in short, is the ideal exponent of the view that responsiveness to music is intrinsic to our makeup. He is also the ideal guide to the territory he covers”  Peter KramerThe Washington Post

The Mind’s Eye (2010)

The complex workings of the brain and its astounding ability to adapt and overcome disability”.

”…my ‘shyness’, my ‘reclusiveness’, my ‘social ineptitude’, my ‘eccentricity’, even my ‘Asperger’s syndrome’”, can, he thinks, be put down to lifelong face blindness. A rare consequence of brain injury, it is now understood to be quite common in the general population.” The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks – A Review, Nov 6, 2010


Dr. Nelsen Mane, a strong proponent of hemispheric integration training  And here, boiling 60 minutes down into 151 seconds.

 Alex Doman works  with sound.  Watch his recent presentation in the World Cafe` here onautismBrainstorm.   Alex helped develop the sensory-friendly criteria for Sensory Star Hotels and Resorts .

The National Light & Sound Therapy Centre offers desensitization exercises


Dr. Laz, “Touching Lives Through Music & Education”   music therapy program for students with profound special needs

Adam Goldberg, “Hands On Music: An iPad Band for Students with Disabilities”.  Using touch technology to help students use their musical gifts rather than battle the barriers thrown up by their constraints. 

  • Be informed.  That means do your homework
  • Be objective.  You may not like it but, if the shows merit, it is worthy of exploration
  • Be flexible.  There is no silver bullet. Let’s face it; we don’t have a very big arsenal.  The more tools we discover,  the better able we will be to help.


  • What is the underlying science and documentation
  • For whom this treatment is recommended; what is it’s relevance to your need
  • What are its’ strengths and weaknesses
  • What are realistic timetables for achievable goals.
  • The professional standing of the therapist

Does anyone have their own good story about how music/light may have played an important role in some school activity?

Perhaps you would like to suggest one.  

Media video:  Combining autism therapy and technology – – Iowa |.

Only a few weeks ago, it was “business as usual” in the world of international business, politics, mass media, philanthropy, communications, IT…..   what’s Apple up to?  What’s Jobs’ next surprise?  When will the new iPhone be released? Did you see the iPhone feed from the latest demonstrations?

Now, we are engaged in an international eulogy…  20/20 hindsight enabling us to reflect on the man and the true measure of his impact on the world.  This is as it should be for it is only by understanding our past can we hope to fashion our future…  a future greatly influenced by Steve’s accomplishments and the personal example he set for the rest of us follow.  

This fleeting moment of reflection … at the cusp before Steve transitions from a omnipresent, fact-of-life dynamo into another revered icon in the Pantheon of our group consciousness, is the greatest testament to his contributions and all that made him unique.  Ultimate however, we will remember him more for the course he charted to future events.  The ultimate showman, his passing serves to bring public attention his most recent innovations, the “i-Products” that are the most significant contributions yet made to helping our Special Needs children, siblings, coworkers and friends.   

Thanks for what you have done.  Thanks for what will be done by others.  The Past AND the Future.   The true measure of this man.  Steve Job’s legacy.

With all the hoopla lately about how the iPad and iPhone are helping autistic students, we’ve neglected to appreciate how technology benefits teachers.   

As tech coordinator for PS177 in NYC, I had difficulty convincing staff to incorporate computers with their daily lessons.   Six years ago, there weren’t many apps available for working with autism.  There were some primitive educational “games” and a handful of websites.   And we had Where In The World Is Carmine Sandiego.   But none of this stuff provided the appropriate content and delivery options we take for granted today.  Besides, applying this stuff to lessons required new learning curves, something harried special education teachers have little time for.   I was fighting an uphill battle.

I concluded it would be easier to gain IT converts if I focused on how technology could address the teacher’s needs.  Focusing its application in class projects instead of individual lessons would make it easier for teachers to understand the “why” and “how” and  make them more receptive to expending the effort required to learn its’ use.   I needed to promote pet projects.

Adam Goldberg, a music teacher, was one of the first staff members to give it a shot.  We had discussed how Apple’s GarageBand might be used in his music classes.  The app proved a bit clumsy for his purposes.  But, as Adam applied himself to understanding how tech might be applied to his music program, he discovered a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm that something pretty amazing might be around the corner.   


We understand that Technology is helping students.  

But,  IN THIS VIDEO  shot by Susan Abdulezer of the NYC       Department of Education, we get a picture of how technology  is helping teachers experience renewed enthusiasm in their           role as educators.

Technology: Good for kids. Good for teachers. 

It’s a win-win situation.

I have been a proponent for the use of video with Special Education since 1992 and the first teacher to submit video as evidence of student achievement for the New York State Alternate Assessment Program. I also proposed a program training staff to create and maintain video portfolios that would follow untestable students throughout their school career.

The portfolio, consisting of 90 second vignettes, would serve as evidence of achievement as well as a time line of student progress.

My Video Portfolios presentation to the NYC department of education

Since 2007,I have engaged nearly 200 children on the Spectrum in computer-assisted activities promoting metacognition and language development.

These videos are evidence of how students can be engaged productively by a technology that:

  • offers the security of a non-threatening, self-paced  learning experience
  • promotes 2-way communication
  • empowers them to make personal choices
  • provides a fun experience that is easy for them to comprehend
  • motivates them to interact with the outside world

Video helped many of my students to interact more appropriately with me and to master an important technology.

I have seen improvements in communication and behavior,  especially by my “lower”  functioning and pre-verbal students.

Recently, I presented on my personal experiences with video at  Celebrating the Strengths of Autism” in Orlando June 2011.  A video of  this full day event will be published in the near future.