MET:Using Computer-Aided Instruction in Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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This page was created by Kimberlee Noel (2010).

Autism Awareness Ribbon

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?


Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD, refers to a group of neurological disorders or impairments of unknown cause, which result in developmental disabilities. ASD affects children from birth, is usually diagnosed before the age of 36 months, and is a life-long disorder without cure. While students diagnosed as having an ASD have particular communication, social and behavioural characteristics in common,

there are wide-ranging individual differences in areas such as severity of ASD, level of functioning, age of onset, number and kinds of symptoms, and particular challenges within social interactions(Autism Society of Canada, 2009). The term "spectrum" is usefully applied to refer to the continuum of severity of developmental impairment.

There are five disorders which fall under the Autism Spectrum umbrella. The majority of children diagnosed will present with one of either Autism Disorder (classical Autism), Asperger Syndrome (AS) or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Rhett's Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder are extremely rare. While each disorder is distinct, they share common characteristics such as social difficulties, rigid interests and communication difficulties.


Students diagnosed with an ASD display developmental impairments within one or more of the three main areas of: social interaction, communication and behaviour. The Autism Society of Canada (2009) and the Burrell Autism Center (2009) contribute to the following overview of common characteristics associated with children having an ASD:

Social Interaction

  • Exhibits poor or atypical eye contact
  • Failure to respond or has a delayed response to his/her name*Prefers to be alone
  • Does not seem to be aware of others or their feelings
  • Fails to develop appropriate peer relationships


  • Atypical language development; little or no language abilities
  • May have marked impairment in initiating and/or maintaining a conversation
  • May repeat words or phrases instead of normal language
  • May demonstrate lack of make-believe or socially imitative play


  • Exhibits restricted and/or stereotyped pattern of activities, interest and behaviours
  • Inflexible adherence to routine; strong resistance to change of routine or environment
  • May exhibit repetitive motor movements (e.g. hand flapping, rocking or spinning)
  • Obsessive interests (e.g. numbers, clocks, shapes, etc.)
  • Unusual play and interaction with objects (e.g. spinning wheels rather than playing with car)

Computer-Aided Instruction and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Definition of CAI

Computer aided instruction (CAI) includes the use of computers to teach academic skills and to promote communication and language development and skills. It includes computer modelling and computer tutorials (Collet-Klingenberg, 2008).

Appropriateness of CAI

ASD characteristics vary significantly within and across students, with each student possessing a varying degree of challenge or strength in each area. These characteristics present a unique set of instructional challenges for educators. Goldsmith & LeBlanc (2004) and Eammons (2008) suggest computer-aided instruction as particularly appropriate for students with an autism spectrum disorder due to it's:

  • predictable results and immediate feedback for student
  • lack of social and verbal ambiguity as often associated with face-to-face instruction
  • avoidance of sensory overload for student
  • ability to move at students own pace
  • ability to create individual and customizable skill sets
  • ability to address both academic and communication/language skills
  • multimedia abilities that hold student attention

Educational Benefits of CAI

Use of computer-aided instruction, as opposed to teacher-based instruction, provides a number of educational benefits for students with ASD. Eammons (2008) states them to be:

  • increased motivation and attention
  • decrease in negative behaviours
  • increased time on task
  • increased learning

What Skills Areas can Be Addressed by Computer-Aided Instruction?

In addition to conventional software programs which are commonly used to introduce and reinforce academic skills, non-traditional CAI programs can be used by students with autism spectrum disorder to practice and attain skills within the characteristically problematic triad areas of behaviour, social and communication skills. Some promising examples include:

File:Computer kid.jpg
Video modelling.
  • Video modelling which can be used to teach a wide variety of social and functional skills such as turn-taking, compromise and empathy (Marcus & Wilder, 2007). As in the WatchMeLearn series, students learn a behaviour or skill by watching a DVD of a model demonstrating that behaviour or skill. Video self modelling (VSM)is an alternate approach which uses the student him/herself as the model. This form can be used both to improve a student's social/communication skills, or to help curb negative or disruptive behaviours.
    File:Alex azrepublic.jpg
    Alexicom Tech provides users with means of communication.

Screen shot of MindReading software.
  • Characteristic of students with an ASD, recognition of emotions in others can be extremely difficult. Interactive social skills software programs such as FaceSay and MindReadingteach the recognition and meaning of facial expressions and tone of voice, helping these students decipher the nuances of social interaction.

  • For students with ASD, speech and/or language may be difficult or non-existent. Alternate and augmentative means of communication have long been available as low-tech devices such as picture boards. Alexicom Tech is an Internet based communication system that pairs system developed or user-created communication boards with voice output. It can be accessed on-line or off-line via any computer, laptop and some phones.


Autism Society of Canada. (2009).What is autism spectrum disorder? Retrieved from

Alexicom Tech. (2009).How does this work? Retrieved February 26, 2010 from

Burrell Autism Center. (2009).What are autism spectrum disorders? Retrieved February 25, 2010 from

Collet-Klingenberg, L. (2008).Overview of computer-aided instruction. Retrieved February 25, 2010 from The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders website:

Emmons, J. (2008). Exploring the use of computer assisted instruction with autistic students. Retrieved March 1, 2010 from

Goldsmith, T.& LeBlanc, L. (2004). Use of technology in interventions for children with autism. The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioural Intervention,1(2),166-178. doi:

Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (2010). MindReading-the interactive guide to emotions. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from

Marcus, A.& Wilder,D. (2007).A comparison of peer video modelling and self video modelling to teach responses in children with autism. Remedial and Special Education,28(1), 33-42. doi:10.1177/07419325070280010401

Symbionica. (2010). FaceSay-social skills games that work! Retrieved March 4, 2010 from

Image References

Alexicom Tech [image file]. Retrieved February 25, 2010 from

Autism Awareness Ribbon [image file]. Retrieved February 26, 2010 from

Autism Spectrum Disorder Umbrella [image file]. Created March 4, 2010

Kid_computer [image file]. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from

MindReading [image file]. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from

Triad of Impairments.[image File]. Retrieved March 2, 2010 from

Video modelling [image file]. Retrieved March 2, 2010 from