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Prism: A Look at Assistive Technology
AutismNOW.org: The National Autism Information and Resource Center

July Prism

Summer Assistive Technology!

With summer in full swing, it may be a busy and hectic time of year for many people. Many families are in the midst of summer adventures, while others are already looking forward to the return of fall. Whether you are looking for ways to make your summer adventures run smoother or planning ahead for fall, check out this edition of the Autism NOW newsletter to find out more about assistive technologies and how they can help support you and your family!

What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology (AT) is any tool, application, or device that supports an individual with a disability to access and participate in the same resources or activities as the general population. For people with autism, AT can be used to help improve communication skills, reduce difficulties associated with visual impairment, and teach interpersonal, independent living, and other key skills.

High Tech v. Low Tech Devices
One consideration that people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families need to think about when considering AT is what tools will be most appropriate for the people involved. Typically, AT devices can be either “low-tech” or “high-tech." (PDF) Low-tech devices – like pen and paper, easy reading text boxes, white boards, or raised paper – are typically very easy-to-use, but may not support the needs of a person as well as a high-tech device would. High-tech devices – like iPads, iPods, cell phones, and home-assistance services – may do a better job at providing people with all of the functions that they may need assistance with; however, they are typically more complex and difficult to use. It is critical to find a balance between usability and functionality when you are selecting devices.

In this Newsletter…
Luckily we have dedicated this month’s Autism NOW Newsletter to providing you with both low tech and high tech ways to improve your summer and fall. In this issue, Director Tonia Ferguson and Co-Director Amy Goodman will share with you one type of low-tech AT device – Social Stories – that you may find helpful to teach or learn about new social situations. Additionally, you can check out David Kennedy’s article on choosing applications for one of the most popular high-tech AT devices – the iPad!

An Introduction to Social Stories

By Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center

Individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities may have trouble understanding social rules, and therefore may need some extra help learning them. The reason that individuals have trouble is because they may have never been explicitly taught the appropriate behavior or response to a social situation. Many people with autism or other developmental disabilities learn best by doing or by example. One good way to explain social situations or transitions to someone with a disability is to use a social story.

What is a Social Story?
Social stories were first introduced in 1991 by Carol Gray to help teach social skills to children on the autism spectrum. Since then, social stories have been used successfully with children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders and other social or communication differences. Every social story is unique and designed for different people; however, a successful one helps an individual learn to navigate social situations with more ease than before.

A social story breaks down a social situation into a series of events or steps that should happen in order for an individual to accomplish the given task. These stories are written in simple, direct, everyday language and describe any situation or activity in which an individual has trouble understanding what to do or say. Some examples of social story topics include “What happens when we go on a vacation?," “What do you do on an airplane?," “What do you do at a hotel?," and “What is Disneyland like?” The benefit to social stories is that they can be tailored to fit the unique needs and abilities of the individual using them. Stories can have as many or as few words, phrases, sentences, or pictures needed to explain what to do or how to do something.

While many social stories may be developed by family members or professionals, people with autism and other developmental disabilities can be included in creating social stories in various ways. The individual could participate in developing social stories by brainstorming the content of the story, drawing pictures for the story, and writing sentences to describe what is occurring in the story.

How to use a Social Story
Family members, professionals, and people with autism or other developmental disabilities can use social stories in many different ways and for numerous occasions.
  • Social stories can be read to the individual, acted out through role playing, memorized, or repeatedly used as needed until the social situation has been mastered.
  • Social stories can be used at any time or any place before, during, or after a social situation has arisen. Using a social story before an event can help explain what will happen and answer questions that a person with autism or other developmental disability may have. During an event, social stories can be used to assist a person in remembering what is expected or what should be done at a certain time or place. Even after an event, a social story could be used to explain what went wrong and what may need to change so that the situation is more successful the next time it occurs.
For more information on social stories, check out the following resources:

General Information: Examples of Social Stories:

Summer Social Stories Help Bring Back the Routine

by Tonia Ferguson
Director, Autism NOW Center


During the school year, many children with autism and other developmental disabilities follow a regular schedule that lets them know the activities they will participate in each day. However, because summers are typically less structured and may be filled with family vacations, visits, summer camp opportunities and other less-routine events, social stories may be particularly useful during these months. The stories may help provide consistency and predictability in summer routines that children with autism may crave as well as help them better understand social activities that may occur.

One way to create a social story is to take photos and create a visual picture book. For instance, if you want to send your child to summer camp, take pictures of the summer camp and the staff beforehand. Then, create a book called, “I’m Excited about Summer Camp!” The book may explain what summer camp is all about, what the child can expect out of the camp, similarities between camp and school, and the kinds of activities they will be participating in. After you make the book, it is critical to read the book with your children frequently so they can understand what will happen when they attend the summer camp.

Another way to create a social story is by composing digital stories that can be viewed on handheld devices like iPads, iPods, and DVD players or on the computer. You can use media production programs like Window’s Live Movie Maker to create videos or slideshows to help explain social situations to your children.  You can even burn these videos or slideshows to a DVD or download them to a digital device for your children to view while riding in the car. Social storiesbecome visual scripts for children and help them organize and interpret daily events without the assistance of a parent or caregiver. They may not always change the child’s behavior, but they are useful for helping children with autism spectrum disorder understand what to expect and how to deal with transitions and changes in their life.
 
This summer, we encourage you to use social stories to help create successful summer experiences for all. Plan, create, and design your summer social story today!
 
Below are some examples of digital social stories that you can find online!  If you find a Social Story or have created one that you have found helpful, please share them with us in our forum!

Social Story Examples:

The iPad and Apps: How to Find the Best Apps for You

by David A. Kennedy
Online Communications Manager, Autism NOW Center


When Apple launched the iPad in January 2010, Steve Jobs – the company’s Chief Executive Officer – said the device “creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

A Life-Changing Device
He was right. The iPad has helped usher in a new era of personal computing. Apple’s new iPad 3 has already sold more than three million units. Earlier this year, officials at Apple said the company had sold more than 55 million iPads to date and according to recent data by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, devices like tablets and e-readers have become more popular among consumers with 19 percent of adults in the United States owning a tablet computer.
People with autism and other developmental disabilities have felt the iPad’s impact even more. They have used the device in a variety of ways – everything from helping them communicate to learning new concepts and behaviors. The device has literally changed lives, like helping one young girl with disabilities go from crying as her only form of communication to learning how to speak with sentences. But with so many apps on the market, parents, caregivers and professionals can become overwhelmed by all the options. In this article, we’ll give you some tips for how to effectively wade through your choices and make the right ones, plus help you find the most useful apps.

Where to Start
Diving into selecting apps can intimidate anyone, especially those unfamiliar with technology. However, take it one step at a time and remember these tips.
  1. Just like selecting any other product, you should have a few goals and priorities in mind. What’s your biggest challenge? Try to find an app to solve that one first.
  2. Apps can’t do everything or help you overcome every challenge. Don’t try to find an app that does it all. For example, if you are looking to enhance your child’s communication skills, you may want to search for communication apps specifically.   
  3. Pay attention to the user reviews listed in Apple’s iTunes App Store. They can provide valuable, real-world insight.
  4. Let the community help you. Many professionals have curated helpful apps resources and many parents, caregivers and those with autism know which ones work best. Look for recommendations (we have a list at the end of this article).
  5. Above all, pay attention to who’s using the app. You may read rave reviews about an app, but it might not work for your specific needs. Pay attention to that and move on if need be.
Selected Resources
What is your favorite iPad app? Let us know in our Forums, and continue this conversation there with other Prism readers.

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