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How to encourage social communication in autistic children through tablet use

How to encourage social communication in autistic children through tablet use
Two children looking at an iPad
© Coventry University, 2016, with many thanks to Chrysoula Mangafa.

In this section we will look at some guides for teachers and parents that have been developed by Chrysoula Mangafa at Coventry University to support appropriate tablet use. You can find these guides in the ‘Downloads’ section at the bottom of this step.

Who are these guides for?

The guides are for both experienced and non-experienced users of tablet technology. The recommendations included in these guides can be adapted for all children’s abilities and needs, mainly for primary school aged children. The guides cover the following topics:

  1. How to encourage social communication when using a tablet
  2. What can you do to encourage social engagement?
  3. Suitable tablet-based activities
  4. How to encourage appropriate tablet use

When might these guides be useful?

For teachers, these guides can be consulted when thinking about ways to use tablets to teach the curriculum. Both parents and teachers may find the guides useful when searching for apps or when just having fun with your child playing on an app together.

Why were these guides created?

The guidelines are part of Chrysoula’s PhD project which focuses on the use of tablets to develop social communication skills in autistic children. Teachers, parents, children, professionals and researchers contributed to the creation of the guidelines. The guidelines address the participants’ experiences and concerns as well as a wide range of evidence informed teaching strategies.

Autistic children often share a love for technology and touchscreen devices. Tablets, such as iPads, are now used in more than 70% of schools in England and the use of Internet is part of almost 54% of households. So, why not make the most of this and use the mobile tablet as a motivational tool to teach important skills, such as social communication? These guides offers advice to teachers and parents of autistic children on how to use the tablets interactively with the children to practice turn taking skills, sharing, understanding of feelings, verbal and non-verbal communication.

The tablet is a supplementary tool to other non-digital resources, such as books, games, worksheets and symbols. What is important is the mutual understanding and sharing of interest between the child and the adult by using a medium such as the iPad. The device is only a facilitator in the learning process and the adult is the driver to learning and teaching. And don’t forget! You can use different apps to teach the same learning objective according to the child’s levels. Be creative and find interesting ways to use an app besides its original function and purpose.

Each guide has a series of questions to ask yourself when thinking about getting an app for your child. There are 35 questions, which highlights just how much thought needs to be applied to decisions about selecting the most appropriate apps.

Please do not hesitate to share these guides with colleagues and parents! For more information about the project and any enquiries, Chrysoula can be reached via LinkedIn.

© Coventry University, 2016, with many thanks to Chrysoula Mangafa.
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