Assistive Technology Works for Student with Autism

Colton with GPAEA Special Education Consultant Kathy Achenbach

Colton Dommer, a junior high student from Moravia, popped his head into the classroom and immediately asked his teacher if he would be riding the bus home. When his teacher responded that he would, Colton asked if he could use the restroom and off he went. This sounds like a very common exchange between a student and his teacher, except that Colton is a student with autism and he does not verbally communicate at all. Colton attends general education classes as well as receives special education instruction and assistance. He also communicates with his teachers, other school staff, and his peers. Colton accomplishes all of these normal school tasks with the help of assistive technology.

Colton has used a communication device for a number of years. Teresa Halstead, the Great Prairie AEA Speech- Language Pathologist for Moravia and Kathy Achenbach, the Special Education Consultant as well as assistive technology team member, have worked with Colton since he was in preschool.  They had tried a number of communication devices with Colton from PECs (Picture Exchange Communication System) to high-end communication gadgets. The problem with a number of the devices tried was that they were not portable enough to be used to communicate with a number of people. It was also difficult to understand what Colton was trying to say and some were just plain bulky and hard to take from setting to setting. Melissa Thomas, the Special Education Teacher that has worked with Colton since third grade, was frustrated with the lack of versatility of the devices tried. She wanted something that would allow Colton to express wants/needs as well as be portable enough to take to all of the places a student travels in the school setting. It was also crucial that Mrs. Thomas be able to program multiple class tasks and responses that would allow Colton meaningful access to the general education curriculum and be easy and quick to program.  A trial with an iPad with an extensive communication application matched much of the criteria as well as producing effective results.

Some examples of the general education tasks Mrs. Thomas has been able to program for Colton include developing modified text (matched with visuals) with questions for science and social studies tasks. A unit on Martin Luther King was adapted for use on the iPad with text and questions to match the general education curriculum. Several math tasks including money, measurement and computation were placed on the iPad program for Colton to use in his math class.  Colton has begun job shadowing as part of a pre-vocational program. Much of the communication that Colton would need to use while completing his job has also been placed on the iPad program. He can now ask for various supplies or tools that he needs to complete the job using his portable iPad program.  Any of the greetings that he makes to teachers, staff and peers are all included for Colton to access even during unplanned encounters. Colton can even play a game of ‘Go Fish’ with another student with the communication needed pre-programmed.  Other iPad apps have been added to Colton’s program to help reinforce skills as well as for entertainment purposes. One app is used to display Colton’s daily schedule. This way, Colton’s schedule is always available for him to check and it is easy to change the events if needed.

Colton continues to need instruction and practice to properly communicate during varied social situations as well as general education tasks. Mrs. Halstead remains involved with Colton on a consultative basis to help with these needs. Mrs. Thomas is continually on the look-out for ways she can take a general education or IEP task and utilize the iPad to help Colton better show what he knows. Colton’s mother is pleased with Colton’s ability to better express his wants and needs as well as his increased independence. Most importantly, Colton can also tell her if he is not feeling well. She, along with Colton’s whole team, is dedicated to helping him better communicate in all situations and settings.

For more information about the strategies and iPad apps used with Colton, please contact Kathy Achenbach at

Kathy Achenbach, Special Education Consultant

800-382-8970 Ext. 5825

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