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A new school year brings change for all students, but some students, such as students with autism, need a little something extra to help them with the back-to-school transition.

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But a combination of autism supports, technology, and tips can help students with autism, and their teachers, begin a new school year with success.

No two students with autism are alike, and students on the autism spectrum can have widely-varying abilities and strengths.

In fact, the most important thing is to understand the communication strengths and challenges of children with autism, said Linda Hodgdon, a speech-language pathologist and autism consultant who has authored books on using visual strategies with children who have autism.

The majority of students with autism are visual learners.

“The students who are probably the most misunderstood are the students who are the most verbal–people think they understand everything, and they don’t,” Hodgdon said during an edWeb webinar on teaching students with autism. “They still need help.”

Along with Lauren Stafford, vice president of research and professional development for Monarch Teaching Technologies, which produces visual learning software VizZle, Hodgdon reviewed five key areas in which visual teaching strategies can have a big impact on students with autism.

Communication is one of the biggest challenges for students with autism. Many educators talk too quickly and fail to gain student attention before they begin talking. Hodgdon noted that young children absorb about 120 words per minute, high school students absorb about 145 words per minute, but teachers and parents tend to speak at 150-160 words per minute–leading to information overload and lack of understanding.

The environment is important to students with autism, and teachers can use a tool such as Classroom Architect to lay out a virtual classroom to see how their room arrangement will impact students. This tool can help teachers determine whether their classroom will be free of sensory distractions and how they will mark or arrange different work and play stations.

(Next page: Tips and apps for students with autism)Giving information to students with autism helps those students prepare for transitions and make sense of the school day. Various autism software tools can help teachers present daily schedules using visual cues, checklists, or even with object matching.

Time impacts so much of the day for a student with autism, and time management is a challenge. Children with autism function better when they know what time an activity will start, what will happen during the activity, when it will stop, and so forth. Something as simple as using a smart phone alarm clock or timer feature can help a student with autism anticipate a schedule change or transition to his or her next activity.

Supporting positive behaviors is at times the biggest challenge for teachers of students with autism, but ensuring that students have communication options, are familiar with their surroundings and have visual cues to help them adjust to schedule changes or transitions, and giving students with autism enough information combine to help improve behaviors, Hodgdon said.

Autism Speaks created the Autism Speaks Technology Guide, which lists mobile apps that can help develop communication, development, and creativity skills. The front side of the PDF focuses on “therapeutic” technologies and points to communications, self-improvement, and education apps. The flip side of the guide looks at “applied” technologies and focuses on helping the user explore their passions more deeply.

Those searching for visual and sensory Apple apps, both free and fee-based, can explore the following:

Kid in Story: Kid in Story Book Maker makes it easy and fun to create visual stories to support learning, social modeling, and early literacy with the child as the star character. Templates come to life when you place a child or student’s picture on every page. The 8 story templates cover a variety of practical and fanciful topics from promoting good hygiene by washing your hands, to a playful exploration of emotions and facial expressions, to a fantasy visit to San Francisco. You can also write your own custom story or modify any of the templates as you see fit. $6.99

Stories About Me: This app allows parents and teachers to create their own social stories for their children and students. Blending photos, text, and voice recordings into a talking picture book, children can play back rich media stories of their own personal experiences. $5.99

Friends of Ten: Little Monkey Apps Friends of Ten is an activity for the early years of schooling to introduce an understanding of numbers to ten, counting objects to ten, recognizing a collection of objects without counting them, counting on from a higher number, partitioning of objects, and the combinations that make ten (8+2, 2+8, 1+9, 3+7, etc.). These skills underpin mental addition and subtraction. $0.99

Comic Life: A photo comic creation app with speech balloons, photo filters, comic lettering, templates, shapes, shadows and effects. $4.99

Pocket Pond: Create relaxing ripples while enjoying the sounds of nature. Interact with the fish – scare them, feed them, and watch their schooling behavior. Free.

Draw Stars: Draw Stars is game app using a lollol pen. The game scenario is that a starship travels around stars dodging the obstacles to complete a constellation. Users can experience precise movement like joystick in mobile. Free.

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Laura Ascione

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