I had the opportunity to teach a day-long professional development workshop today on high-functioning autism and literacy skills – something upon which I present once or twice a year. One of the sections within the presentation covers technology and how, especially in this population of students, it can foster literacy skills. I recommend using technology to facilitate conversations between teacher and student or between peers, so that the student can show what he or she knows about a text or topic, without the stress and anxiety of coming up with an answer “on the spot.” Online, outside of class, the student can gather his or her thoughts, can review and reflect (rehearse, if you will) what he or she wants to say, and interact with peers in a positive way or ask questions of the teacher without interrupting the flow of class. Technology platforms such as Kidblog.org, or Edmodo, among many others, can facilitate such “conversations.”
I learned of these ideas through reading research and also from Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book, Anything But Typical, which describes a teenage boy who struggles socially, in person, but lives a rich writing life online. Additionally, I had a former student who wrote stories about video game characters in an online forum. He was a very creative and a well received author in this venue.
Today, I also received personal confirmation of the effectiveness of online writing to support social skills thanks to my son. He has an email account through school. One of his classmates sent him an email last week, asking how his summer was going and if he had seen anyone from their class over the summer. This short email allowed my son to practice his “theory of mind” skills in writing back questions to ask his peer, regarding how his summer was going (thinking of another point of view). He was also able to “volley” in the conversation by answering the questions that he had been asked – offering his friend relevant information. Finally, he was able to talk about something that interested him in a socially acceptable way – short and to the point.
I am very thankful that technology can foster these necessary skills. While we won’t be running off to enroll him in cyber school, using this technology effectively in this capacity, is helping to support his having (and keeping) friends and experiencing positive social interactions.