ASDs and Learning in The Modern Age
By Dylan Morris, and Josh Eisen
When it comes to the Autism Spectrum it is a wide and very shiny rainbow made of puzzle pieces. It is hard to sometimes find where someone fits in on the puzzle, but never the less the fit in somewhere. However, after that you need to figure out the best way for someone on the spectrum to learn. Or else they will very much fall behind in life, and in the modern world that is unacceptable. So over the past few dozen years we have been trying to find new ways of helping people learn and adapt. Some of the most interesting methods have come about in the last ten and seem to work very well. Though there are many questions in regards to how they work and if some of these new ones have any effect. I speak of course of methods involving technology and the digital humanities. So that is the question really, how does the digital humanities effect people on the spectrum?
First and foremost we must acknowledge the fact that there are many puzzle pieces in the spectrum. Some are no longer used to diagnose people on the spectrum while some are still strong and going. The ones that come to mind right away are obviously Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. These are the main ones though perhaps not so diagnosed anymore. Due to this paper being limited in scope we will need to pick one or go for a generalized approach. So for this we will be looking at two of the more high functioning diagnoses. These will be PDD/NOS and Asperger’s Syndrome for the reasons of narrowing our research down to a finer point.
Now then, what are the digital humanities? This is a question we must answer before we answer how it effects Autism spectrum disorders. Let us at first go by a sort of text book definition of what they are. Digital humanities is in essence and area of research and teaching with an intersection involving computation and various disciplines of the humanities. That is the most basic and easily understood definition of what they are. However there is much debate on what this all in tales and there are whole books written on that sort of thing. We however will not be going into all the little details, but we will be having a focus on how technology is used. This is because someone is more likely to benefit from technology then internet research methods early on in development. Then again, digitals humanities require technology and without it the field does not exist.
People with Autism tend to actually have an easier time learning with technology such as computers then starting at a flat boring piece of paper. Any form of autism, such as PDD/NOS can make learning difficult for them, as people with autism tend to have a difficult time focusing on one thing at a time without being distracted or getting bored. The thing however is that a computer with a video game stimulates many senses. The main big ones being eyes and ears while a book only does the eyes. This makes it easier to focus on something, as your other senses are not getting distracted.
Another thing is that people with Autism have difficulty staying still and learn much better when on the move. I suppose that explains why they may have drew on everything when they were little, because it might have helped them focus. There are some students with ASDs who feel that they need to use a stress ball when they are writing to help them focus, but when they type on a computer, they would not need the stress ball. Moving the mouse on the computer and using the keypads to type would help these students maintain their focus.
There are different strategies to help a students who has an ASD learn, such as keeping sentences short and simple, games, and routines. These different strategies each help them learn both essential academic and social skills that they will need to use in their lives. Technology and Digital humanities can help provide the different strategies to help the students learn, and help the teachers learn these strategies to help the students overcome the challenges that they are facing because of their ASDs.
One of the challenges a Student with an ASD faces is understanding and retaining new information that they learn. If a teacher uses big complicated words while using them in a long sentence, it would be hard for the student to understand and retain the information he or she just learned, even if that student was paying attention the whole time. Ben Josefa says “Although students with ASDs may be paying attention, they may have a problem understanding your main point and identifying the important information, so you should avoid verbal overload, and use short sentences to be clear”. If the teacher wants the student with ASD to understand and retain the information, they would have to make their sentence short and use simple words that the student would understand so it would be easier for them to retain the information they just learned. Digital humanities can also help the teacher find a way to make their point short and simple, because other people helping their students overcome similar challenges can give them tips on how to get directly to their point and what words to use that would make it simple. (Josefa 430).
While trying to help students with ASDs overcome their academic and social challenges does seem hard, it can also be fun for the student. According to Brian Siegel “Students with Autism have trouble Paying attention regardless of the intelligence because they view learning as something that is boring, but if the learning was fun, the student would have an easier time paying attention.” The teachers can use games from social media to help the students overcome their academic and social challenges. An example of how a game through social media can help with their social skills would be a game that helps improve their eye contact. Eye contact is a very important social skill, and would be a challenge for someone with an ASD, so the game on the computer would help them improve their eye contact by having the objective of the game be just focusing their eyes on a red square that moves across the computer screen. These games can help improve their academic skills as well. For example there can be computer games with fun pictures and videos that the student would be interested in, and the objective would be to spell a word, finishing or correcting a sentence, or solve a math problem. Which would also improve their math, grammar, and reading skills. (Siegel 26).
Routines are part of the daily educational lives of students with ASDs, which can help them be successfully engaged with academics. According to Katherina Boser, “Routines are an integral part of daily lives for students with ASDs and foster successful engagement and increased independence, by helping a student manage the social and academic pressures associated with various school environments.” Which means that not only do routines help these students want to learn more, they help them want to learn independently. If these routines were disrupted in any way, it would trigger confusion in the students. Digital Humanities can help students maintain their routines and help them reach their full academic potential. For example using Microsoft PowerPoint, or any visuals from social media, can help create a visual schedule that can help the students with academics by providing a clear direction. By using visuals from technology, or social media, students with ASDs can learn how to follow academic schedules, and even generalize them to different settings. Katherina Boser says that “Visuals can be used and modified in conjunction with clip art to create personal visual schedules, behavior charts, or even contextual stories depicting appropriate student social interaction.” If these visuals were removed, the student’s academic progress would decrees. A student with an ASD would need these to help maintain their routines, and therefore maintain their academic progress. (Boser 47). (Boser 48).
All of these strategies are affective at teaching in their own way. They each have something that will help students with ASDs learn both academically and socially, while at the same time giving teachers helpful tips on how to teach their students. They can rely on Digital Humanities and technology to help teach their students, and help them overcome their challenges. There are also many things people with Autism could not do if it was not for computers, because of computers they are able to do things without them. Computers can help people with Autism learn how to interact with someone on a daily basis. They are what help people who have ASDs in the modern age become functioning members of society.
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