Since the launch of the Apple iPad, educators have touted the tool’s ability to engage special education students with autism spectrum disorder through unique, customizable applications and stimulating touchscreen technology. Many still feel, however, that although touchscreen tablets work well as personalized tools, they cannot be a replacement for interactive whiteboards, which help autistic students with social learning in a group setting.
Whiteboards began making headway in the K12 arena in 2006, and their presence in classrooms has increased exponentially ever since.
“The boards, when combined with pedagogy, improve student behavior and engagement and reduce teacher stress,” says Lisa DeRoy, education advocate with SMART Technologies. Although there are more than a dozen whiteboard manufacturers that cater to schools in the United States—such as SMART, Luidia, eInstruction, InFocus, DYMO/ Mimio and Promethean—many offer similar features to supplement analytical classroom discussion, including graphics, audio, visual support, linguistic tools, drawing capabilities and speech bubbles. Students are engaged in what they’re learning, rather than just watching.
While they also serve general education students, interactive whiteboards can captivate autistic students, who struggle with attention deficit disorder and reciprocal relationships on varying scales. “Interactive whiteboards’ multisensory tools allow students to attend through visual means,” says Kathleen McClaskey, president of EdTech Associates and a member at large of ISTE SETSIG, a special interest group on special education technology.
Whiteboards also aid in mainstreaming special education students in general education classrooms. “Sadly, students with special needs often become isolated from their peers,” says DeRoy. “Mainstream teachers are also special needs teachers. They have a classroom with a smorgasbord of student needs they have to accommodate.” McClaskey believes that the iPad works well as a personal tool but that it doesn’t further the fundamental goals of learning in a group as whiteboards do. “Kids develop a respect for each other,” says McClaskey. “They take turns and increase their attention span by nearly an hour through the visual components.”