The benefits of teaching ICT to autistic children

by Caroline Dawkings. ICT is a great learning tool for children with autism and related communication disorders.

Girl with laptop

Introduction

Autism is a serious developmental, life-long disorder which affects at least 1 in 110 children in the UK. It has no known cause or cure.

It affects a child’s ability to learn so profoundly, that without specialist intervention most children will regress and remain unable to communicate - with no eye contact or speech. It can also lead to severe behavioural problems, including self-injury. However, with intensive support these children can be given the chance to participate more fully in society.

One way of helping children on the autistic spectrum is to use ICT. As well as generalising (applying) learnt skills, it is a great way for children to be independent. Many of them derive a lot of enjoyment out of printing their work, going to collect it from the printer, and then either putting it up in school or taking it home.

It is also a skill they can use in their home environment – and one which helps free up their parents during busy times, e.g. making dinner or looking after other children.

How CBeebies can help

The CBeebies website can be used by autistic children aged between three and eight years.

The Tweenies pages have some great games – e.g. ‘Bella’s Stall’ and ‘Star-tastic Captain Jake’ – that you could try out with your child. ‘Bella's Stall’ could also be used with slightly older and more developed children who are learning money skills. There are a number of other fun games which help to develop hand-eye coordination. Click on the ‘Play Games’ part of the website and browse the ‘Switch and Special Needs’ section.

As children with autism have attention difficulties, story time within the class is often difficult. But the interactive, animated stories on the website are a good way to capture their attention. Why not try watching ‘Blue Cow in the Playground’ (on the Story Makers web pages) and ‘Georgina the Giraffe’ (64 Zoo Lane) with your child?

How to make a magic moment

Have some fun together playing the ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ game on the CBeebies website (you’ll find it in the ‘Switch and Special Needs’ section). The game was specially designed with autistic children in mind.

The game focuses on your child’s matching skills and rewards them with music and movement on the screen. It breaks the song down into small chunks and encourages the children to continue in order to hear the next line of the song.

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Top tips

  • ICT is a great way for your child to be independent. It’s a skill they can use which can help free you up at busy times (e.g. when you need to attend to another child or make dinner).Encourage your child to explore some of the games and activities on the CBeebies website – the Something Special pages might be a good place to start. (Ask your child’s teacher for recommendations of other suitable children’s websites.)Start off simply - e.g. with games and activities that focus primarily on mouse skills (clicking, moving and dragging) - and then let your child try some more complex tasks, e.g. matching, sorting, painting and memory games.

Expert opinion

Many autistic children enjoy websites. They act as a great reinforcer as the children are learning with characters they know and love from television, comics, books and toys.

Caroline Dawkings, Specialist ICT teacher working with children with autism and related communication disorders

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