SEN: how technology can prepare students for the real world

Indira Ramraj, Digital Media Specialist at TreeHouse School, talks about how they use technology to prepare their students, aged between 4-19 years with complex autism, for real-world settings.

Technology is a powerful tool in today’s society, taking over traditional methods to make everyday processes easier. And it has proved to be equally as powerful in the classroom. Here at TreeHouse School, Ambitious about Autism’s flagship school in north London, we work with our learners, who are aged between 4-19 years and all have complex autism, to prepare them for real-world settings and technology plays a major part in their learning.

As TreeHouse School’s digital media specialist, I use technology in my classroom using iPads, photography, filming, animation, film editing, programming and computational thinking. The interactive and immediate nature of technology lends itself to the learning process allowing our learners to complete more complex tasks. Understanding how autism affects a child’s learning, and how to teach in a variety of imaginative ways, is important.

Technology enables personalised learning 

Technology has shown to help individuals with autism learn and thrive in education as the use of technology can be adapted to their individual needs and learning styles. In my classroom computer technology enables learners to focus and explore, understand cause and effect, express their voice and vision and increase their confidence and fine/gross motor skills. IPads are used to help young people to communicate and games help to increase fine motor skills, eye gaze, choice-making skills and problem-solving skills.

Our learners are taught to navigate through folders on the computer, research curriculum topics on the internet and can take pictures and watch videos on how to complete tasks. Learning through technology shows immediate cause and effect which delivers immediate results and reinforcement through visual stimuli.  This in turn engages the individual through trial and error, processing information faster than traditional learning methods.

Learning photography, editing and film making fires imaginations

It was with all of this in mind that, in 2014, I worked with freelance photographer Elisabeth Blanchet to create an eight-week project called Through the Lens, teaching photography and editing skills to pupils. The learners grew from not being able to use a camera at all to using a wide variety of cameras, disposable, digital and SLR cameras independently. Through this project they expanded their imagination – having complete creative control – and choice-making skills, choosing themes and final photographs. In turn, their core curriculum targets increased.  It had a remarkable affect on those learners who had previously found it difficult to stay in class for long periods or those who had a shorter concentration span; with this project they were able to stay for longer periods with a camera, computer or iPad. They requested fewer breaks and were able to retain more information then usual.

In 2015 our learners progressed onto a film making project. They created storyboards and scenery and then acted, filmed and edited the footage themselves. They directed shots and, as a result, produced their very own short films – again, each of them creatively responsible for their own project. Ideas were developed and the most amazing films were created, covering a variety of genres including comedy, reportage, thriller, experimental, animation and a music video. This project truly brought out learners personalities, strengths, creativity and imagination. For some of our learners at TreeHouse School communication, emotion and imagination are barriers but in this project they shone in pushing those barriers to express themselves and create their own stories, visions and themes for their films.

In their spare time, our learners wrote about their project on Multi-me, an internal secure social networking site launched at TreeHouse School in 2013, talking about how much they enjoyed it and what they would like to do next. As a result we saw increased flexibility and adaptability from a group of young people who are normally quite routine-based. Their confidence increased as they grew to use a variety of technologies and have since requested more technology sessions. Additionally, parents have noticed that their children were making more choices and were more flexible at home.

Maintaining these skills in a variety of classroom-based activities, as well as outside the classroom, ensures that pupils generalize the skills they learned into the real world when interacting with others, engaging in work and using technology as leisure time.  Thus the progress they have showed sets them up for multiple opportunities in the community and aids their independence.

Indira Ramraj is the Digital Media Specialist at TreeHouse School, the flagship school of Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism.

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