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Weronika Kaczmarczyk

Dr. McLaughlin
WR 13300
November 14, 2014
Touch-Screens: Touching the Education of Autistic Children
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “one child in 160 has an ASD and
subsequent disability” (6). ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder
that affects interpersonal skills and is characterized by the inability to communicate effectively
or react appropriately in social situations. Because it is founded on a spectrum of intensity, it
encompasses several discrete conditions to include Asperger syndrome and autism, as well as
several un-named variations. Along the spectrum, patients manifest their symptoms in varying
levels of severity and visibility, which creates challenges for educators and care givers in
developing effective treatment plans because no two cases are exactly alike. Estimates made by
the WHO suggest that the global incidence of ASD has skyrocketed in recent years. This is
especially measurable in highly developed countries like the United States, which have the
resources to isolate the disorder’s subtle symptoms. Improvements in diagnostic techniques and
higher awareness of the condition are credited as major factors contributing to the increased
number of cases being reported (8). This further complicates the problem of providing ASD
children with adequate care during the hours they are at school, as districts must now
accommodate the additional volume of specialized educational plans and find ways for all of
their students to coexist in a productive classroom environment while still attending to individual
needs. This must be done in a cost-effective way, because unlike frequency of autism diagnoses,
school budgets remain largely unchanged.

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Because ASD stunts a child’s capacity to connect with people around him or her, they
can often be categorized as behaving aloof to their surroundings. This has a negative influence
on their social and academic growth, as the condition may make it difficult to form friendships
with classmates or effectively listen as the teacher delivers a lesson during class (Doyle 357).
The most productive way to staunch this issue is to provide the autistic students with scaffolding
to develop skills that come naturally to his or her peers. Since the autistic population has
difficulty interpreting social cues and reacting appropriately to social situations, they should
receive intervention as early as possible in order to build competency in these areas before they
become larger deficits in their academic performance as they advance through the grade levels.
Being taught to interpret social cues is an indispensible skill that is best for them to learn as
quickly as possible. The rationale of this is that once the students move through a series of
scaffolds, they will have acquired the confidence and skills to fully engage in their education and
social maturation. Success in this scenario is defined by the students’ potential to go through the
rest of their schooling and adulthood with minimal setbacks resulting directly from their
Several methods have been developed to teach autistic students how to improve their
social skills in order to function at a higher level in general education classrooms and beyond
school as adult members of society, but one stands alone as the premier technique. This
technique is the Social Stories method. It has been met with a high degree of success during its
existence. The original framework has been around since 1991, when Carol Gray developed it to
teach individuals with autism to interact properly in social contexts. Doyle mentions the
techniques by which this is accomplished – specific language, visual cues, and format guidelines
(2). Quirmbach goes on to say that several independent studies have supported the success of

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Social Stories due to the fact that “they are visual, situation-specific, offer explicit information
and tend to have short learning intervals”. There is a very particular format they follow.
Sentences are descriptive, perspective, control, affirmative, cooperative, partial, or directive in
nature and must have a direct impact on the meaning of the paragraph in order to be included
(300). The language used eliminates any terms unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence to rid
the situation of any ambiguity. With such rigorous standards in the methodology, there is no
room for the student to become confused by the message because everything included in the
story is calculated to be assistive to their learning process and has a direct impact on the meaning
of the story.
The greatest limitation of basic Social Stories is the difficulty of implementing the
traditional method in a general education classroom with a heterogeneous group of students,
because only a minority of these students falls within the Autism Spectrum and would benefit
from their involvement in the curriculum. Social Stories require personal crafting for each
student, which is difficult to accomplish in addition to crafting a lesson plan for the remaining
students. Also, Doyle points out that they are difficult to write because they require that specific
details be collected prior to crafting the structured sentences in order to be sure the proper format
is followed (358). This is unfeasible in an average American classroom of 30 students. In a class
that size, taking the time to craft, let alone live model, Social Stories for a handful of individuals
would take away precious general instruction time.
To solve the predicament of balancing the educational needs of all students, schools
should implement standardized technology-based Social Stories guidelines in elementary schools
throughout the United States in order to teach autistic children how to properly interact in social
situations. The plugged-in approach to Social Stories using screens is most effective for teaching

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autistic students for a variety of reasons. As previously discussed, it saves time for educators
struggling to balance a full classroom of students at an age where there is an enormous gap in
ability level while simultaneously ensuring that the autistic students are not lost in the shuffle.
Also, since autistic children are very frequently visual learners, they are especially well suited to
learn and retain skills from visually based media that they can watch several times and interact
with via touchscreen-incorporating programs. Finally, the flexibility of medium of delivery
makes it easy to apply Social Stories in a variety of learning environments, which would
diminish the stress of transitioning into a technology-based format of instruction because the
devices can act as a supplement in almost any setting.
Some scholars may point to the implementation of technology in the development of
autistic children as limiting to their success potential because it could aggravate their already
stunted social abilities. Rajendran addresses this claim that technology would further isolate
those with autism by explaining, “ICT [information and communication technology] increases
rather than reduces opportunities for communication” (337) because they may have questions
about the assignment, giving them a structured way in which to reach out. Simultaneously, the
technology grounded approach allows the students to learn via a method they are likely to be
more comfortable with and find more intuitive.
As asserted by Xin, the Social Stories model presented through technology plays to the
audio-visual learning strengths of autistic children (9). Ayres supported this claim when he
reported that parents observed their children with ASD to be fascinated by the visual media they
were using for skill acquisition in the classroom. He went on to say that they more effectively
retained the information from lessons grounded in technology (260). One can infer that when
children are intrigued, they are bound to recall the information learned more readily than if it is

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tedious for them to learn. This is especially applicable to ASD because one of the symptoms is
limited propensity to focus on lecture-based delivery of content. Therefore, it would logically
follow that since the application of technology has proven effective in reaching the autistic
population by way of careful research should be implemented more widely in schools. Moving to
rely more heavily on its many forms in classrooms to assist children with ASD is a rational
direction educators should head to ascertain the future personal and academic growth of their
autistic students.
Another strength of the plan to incorporate technology based Social Stories in general
education classrooms to serve the autistic demographic is the versatility of available technology
to accommodate different levels of involvement necessary. As was discussed previously, autistic
children fall somewhere along the Autism Spectrum. Hence, a method that benefits one student
may hold another student back from reaching their full potential. With the evolution of
technology, Social Stories have been adapted to several media devices, namely the Smart Board
and iPad.
A study of Social Stories software on a Smart Board was conducted by Xin to determine
if this is an effective delivery method of the teaching technique. Smart Board technology utilizes
a touchscreen whiteboard with the capacity to recognize several intuitive functions like scrolling
and clicking. It is much more versatile than non-interactive devices because it can act as a
projector, be written on, and teach students to interact with scenarios they are presented with on
the Smart Board (20). The benefit of this interface is that students can directly respond to the
Social Stories they view on the board and play interactive games on the touch-sensitive surface,
which is much easier for children to understand than the same games presented on a computer
where the premise of the computer mouse must be explained in order to begin any activity.

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Touching what the Smart Board indicates is less convoluted and saves time by somewhat
blurring the lines of reality for the activity’s purpose. Xin goes on to enumerate some of the
benefits of the Smart Board in teaching social stories to be, “More easily observe, imitate,
review, and practice each desired appropriate behavior” In independently conducted tests with
autistic students in both inclusive and special education classroom settings, positive academic
outcomes were observed in students after completing the Smart Board Social Stories with their
teachers (21). Learning through doing, as the Smart Board allows students to do, can be extended
to other touch-sensitive devices also.
Another successful vessel of the Social Stories method is the iPad. While less research
has been conducted on this particular article’s efficacy at teaching social stories because the
technology is newer, it has been met with promise. Firstly, it is more inclusive than some
previously available individual instructional devices because the iPad is not surrounded by a
stigma like some older devices that were used by special groups in larger classrooms. Students
using it during regular class time do not have to feel embarrassment since it is a socially accepted
object among young people, which may also positively impact the students’ approach to learning
the material (Spooner 32). The study concluded that the integration of the iPad improved
students’ performance from the baseline before iPad-based learning was initiated (43). Also, the
iPad offers a more independent delivery of Social Stories, so it can be used by students with
minimal teacher intervention, freeing up resources and time for the remainder of the classroom
and giving the student viewing the Social Story the opportunity to work through it at their own
It is important to remember that the technology can only be used as an assistive element,
and it cannot replace genuine social interactions or a classroom teacher. However, keeping in

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mind how hectic an elementary classroom can become, the interactive Social Stories system is a
wonderful tool to deepen the message for the student so that he or she can accurately reproduce it
in a future social situation. Also, as Doyle explains, the original intention of Social Stories was to
be applied to a variety of instructional methods and “not be limited to words on paper” because
such a combination of delivery styles will most probably accommodate most students’ learning
styles (358). As such, both the Smart Board and iPad are wonderful resources to be used in
parallel with standard instruction because they shorten the time between processing of the
information being taught and application of said knowledge to a relevant real-world situation
generated by the program’s sophisticated code before the student is expected to apply the same
skeleton to an unscripted experience.
Since the establishment of personal technology as commonplace in modern society, the
remaining variable in the scenario of incorporating Social Stories on a technology interface into
classrooms in the United States to assist students with autism can be addressed quite simply.
Even after accounting for the up-front price of the devices, Quirmbach maintains, “Social Stories
are an inexpensive treatment that can be applied to a wide variety of situations” (2). Because the
devices are used by a majority of people recreationally and the majority is familiar with their
functions, less of an investment needs to be made in educating instructors on how to properly
utilize the devices’ teaching potential than was necessary with some previously developed but
wholly unsuccessful attempts to incorporate technology in classrooms because educators were
unfamiliar with the systems and could not find efficient ways to include them in lessons. This is
not the case with the modern devices being suggested. Also, considering the alternative of
employing several additional teaching assistants to care for the disparity between acquisition

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speeds between students, investing in a Smart Board or a quota of iPads to act as scaffolding for
the students with ASD is comparatively economical.
Economical, effective, and intuitive: Social Stories founded in basically accessible
technology are the future of comprehensive treatment of autistic children in America. The readily
available Social Stories model has been tested many times and scholarly analyses have deemed it
a successful method for teaching children with autism how to interact in social settings in a way
that is conducive to their development into adolescents and adults without interpersonal or
academic deficits. The problem of implementing this tedious to articulate program in a
meaningful yet inexpensive way has been solved by hybridizing it to operate with sophisticated
devices like Smart Boards and iPads. These devices offer students many advantages that livemodeling done by the classroom teacher fails to accomplish while tailoring to their academic
strengths of interpreting visual information. In summation, to implement this proposal nationally,
very few accommodations would have to be made to the current system and the benefits would
be instantly observable.
Broadening the scope of this discussion, the WHO recognizes the United States as a
developed nation with a wealth of resources at its disposal. As such, autism is more readily
diagnosed in this country, where the majority of people has access to general physicians as well
as mental and child health specialists and is not coping with more immediate dangers like famine
or war. Autistic individuals in regions with less mental-illness education are vulnerable to
stigma, discrimination, and diminished quality of life because they do not receive the care they
deserve (6). Very little of the research on ASD and other neurological diseases is conducted by
low or middle-income countries. This category of people is grossly underrepresented in the
academic world of autism research, so as a country with substantial means, America has a civic

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duty to test the waters of early autism treatment in schools via a standardized care system like the
technology founded Social Stories approach to determine its effectiveness in decreasing the
severity of symptoms and improving the life quality of the individuals who complete the
program and enter adulthood (10). Every possible stride should be made to help the population of
people with ASD integrate into society seamlessly. If the proposed technique could accomplish
this, it could be adapted to the needs of other countries and curb the incidence of low-functioning
autistic adults because they would be reached and taught the necessary skills much earlier in
their lives, when taking up the skills is more likely to occur.

Works Cited

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Ayres, Kevin, Linda Mechling, and Frank Sansosti. "The Use of Mobile Technologies to Assist
with Life Skills/Independence of Students with Moderate/Severe Intellectual Disability
and/or Autism Spectrum Disorders: Considerations for the Future of School Psychology."
Psychology in the Schools 50.3 (2013): 259-71. Print.

Doyle, Theresa, and Inmaculada Arnedillo Sanchez. "Using Multimedia to Reveal the Hidden
Code of Everyday Behaviour to Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)."
Computers Education 56.2 (2011): 357-69. Print.

Quirmbach, Linda, et al. "Social Stories: Mechanisms of Effectiveness in Increasing Game Play
Skills in Children Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder using a Pretest Posttest
Repeated Measures Randomized Control Group Design." Journal of Autism and
Developmental Disorders 39.2 (2009): 299-321. Print.

Rajendran, G. "Virtual Environments and Autism: A Developmental Psychopathological
Approach." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 29.4 (2013): 334-47. Print.

Spooner, Fred, et al. "Using an iPad2(R) with Systematic Instruction to Teach Shared Stories for
Elementary-Aged Students with Autism." Research and Practice for Persons with Severe
Disabilities 39.1 (2014): 30-46. Print.
WHO. “Autism Spectrum Disorders & Other Developmental Disorders” WHO. Rep. World
Health Organization, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

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Xin, Joy. "Using the Smart Board in Teaching Social Stories to Students with Autism." Teaching
Exceptional Children.4 (2011): 18-24. Print.