Autism & Technology: Communication, Social Interaction, and Other Spaces Where Technology Can Help

March 31, 2020

There are many advantages to how technology can assist individuals with autism. Criteria for an autism diagnosis include repetitive behaviors as well as deficits in communication and social interaction. Technology has helped our society as a whole access information more readily, in modes that are easily accessible to all of us, including individuals with autism. 

Angela Pao-Johnson and Adam Dreyfus

AnswersNow BCBA and AnswersNow Co-founder and Chief Science Officer

There are many advantages to how technology can assist individuals with autism. Criteria for an autism diagnosis include repetitive behaviors as well as deficits in communication and social interaction. Technology has helped our society as a whole access information more readily, in modes that are easily accessible to all of us, including individuals with autism. 

Communication: There are some individuals with autism that cannot produce vocal speech and may not be good candidates for sign language. However, they may be able to communicate using pictures or words. There have been many assistive communication technologies developed to allow these individuals to convey their wants, needs and ideas quickly. 

Planning: Technology can also provide structure and organization in a world that sometimes feels haphazard. There are many ways that individuals with autism can now orient and familiarize themselves with novel places and events. This includes apps that allow visual schedules and task lists to be quickly created. I worked with one family that would take pictures of things they planned to do every day and check them off once completed. This helped provide a visual that their child with autism could rely on to prepare for what was coming next. It was so effective that their child became very involved in the creation of the visual schedule, developing a love of photography.  In addition, there is a plethora of how-to videos and social stories that can help individuals acclimate to almost any situation and role-model appropriate behaviors. 

Self-Monitoring & Decision Making: Technology has also greatly assisted in our ability to monitor our own behaviors to allow for better decision-making. We currently have the means to monitor the frequency, duration and latency of our behaviors which enables us to know when something is working or not working. There are apps where individuals with autism can log their own behaviors or devices where the behavior is measured automatically (e.g. to monitor the rate of stereotypic behaviors, individuals can be outfitted with a smartwatch). There are apps that also assist with decision-making. By inputting information, apps can guide us as to what course of action we should take. 

Social Interactions: Technological advancements have enabled individuals with autism to interact socially with others on platforms that may minimize their deficits. Individuals with autism can sometimes communicate more successfully using electronic platforms. Emails and texts messages allow individuals with autism to thoughtfully craft what they want to convey before sending. They can still connect with other people and alleviate feelings of loneliness without having to navigate all the nuances of body language and voice intonation. There are also apps that can assist with learning these non-verbal nuances.  These apps can provide feedback regarding appropriate and inappropriate social behavior (e.g. there is an app aimed at increasing eye contact among children with autism). 

Access to Care: Lastly, one of the most important products of technology with the autism community is increasing access to care. With the advent of telehealth, services that are hard to come by in more rural regions of the world are now more accessible. The efficacy of telehealth in the behavioral health sphere has been empirically validated in numerous research studies and insurance payors are starting to accept this model. Applied behavior analysis, an evidence-based best practice treatment for children with autism, is a growing field. However, there is still a shortage of practitioners. Telehealth can help to alleviate this gap.

AnswersNow is attempting to bring tele-ABA to parents and caregivers of children with autism and it is our mission to bring ABA therapy to anyone seeking it through an online, remote service. 

Download the app here and start chatting with a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) today.


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