As I wrap up my latest autism class, I’m once again getting a window, via my students’ field experiences, into the latest trends in special needs classrooms. Disconcertingly, these are starting to validate my fears about the sprawling Special Ed Technology Complex. I’ve worried, in particular, that the proliferation of assistive communication technology would reduce the urgency of and emphasis on remediation.
My students’ field experiences include interviews of autistic support teachers and speech therapists. In these interviews, they’re supposed to ask, among other things, about what sorts of accommodations and remediations are provided to autistic students with language difficulties. In my students’ interview write-ups, I found long lists and enthusiastic descriptions of new apps designed to facilitate communication, and very little discussion about actually teaching communication. Most of the teachers and therapist, it appeared, never got around to discussing what they do to reduce students’ language deficits: e.g., by teaching students new vocabulary words or how to put words together into sentences.
Instead, the focus was mostly about how this or that assistive device allows students to push this or that button to get across this or that need or message.
While there is certainly a role for assistive devices in autism, I’m guessing that we could generally use a bit less of this:
And a bit more of this: