EdTech Friday: Using Technology with Special Needs Students


Special needs education is proving to be an area that is a natural fit for technology. One reason is that many special needs students are already using digital technology to help them manage communications, maintain focus, and provide engagement. Assistive technology describes the use of these devices to “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

As an example, many autistic children are visually oriented and more comfortable communicating via technology than directly. This article on an expanding special needs center in Pennsylvania describes one student:

“He gestured to the screen on his iPad, where a YouTube video was playing. He had some downtime after doing some work with his father, Peter, and decided to cruise the Internet.

He couldn’t say what he was watching – Stefan is on the autism spectrum and is nonverbal. But, thanks to his iPad and his parents’ instruction, he would be able to let them know somehow. Stefan uses apps on his iPad in his personal life, to communicate with others, organize his days and for academics as a student at Council Rock High School North.”

Many classrooms are adopting blended learning, which uses individual digital devices as part of the experience. It appears that many special needs students are more prepared for this experience than other students, as they are already using these technologies as part of their normal communication experience.

One article explains why special needs students are a leg up on blended learning:

some specialists believe that children with certain kinds of disabilities, such as those on the autism spectrum, respond especially well to technology programs because the programs behave in consistent, predictable ways. And unlike earlier technologies for students with special needs, the tablets and laptops are portable and indistinguishable from devices used by other students.

The equalizing effect of technology for special needs students is similar to the way that technology seems to be giving introverts more of a voice in the traditionally extrovert dominated classroom environment. With technology, introverts can have more of a voice, and more ways in which to participate and demonstrate their proficiency.

Technology and technological solutions are also part of the peer-to-peer approach that has been gaining ground. Special needs teachers are often faced with problems for which they have not been given tools. Networks such as Teachers Pay Teachers and the subreddit for special ed teachers are great resource and experience sharing platforms being used by teachers.