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The Use of Social Media . As an Assistive Technology for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Rationale. Grounded in the wisdom of Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

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the use of social media

The Use of Social Media

As an Assistive Technology for

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Grounded in the wisdom of Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
  • Result of previous experience with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their use of social media

"What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done."

-Temple Grandin (The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's)


Autism Spectrum Disorder has been defined as “a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social communication skills.”

(NIMH, 2011)


In December 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 110 births in the United States and almost 1 in 70 boys.

(CDC, 2009 as cited by The Autism Society)

  • Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by their first birthday
  • Does not speak single word sentences by 16 months of age
  • Does not combine two or more words into sentences or phrases by 2 years of age
  • Does not respond to their own name
  • Loses language or social skills as they develop
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Does not appear to know how to play with toys
  • Excessively lines up toys or objects
  • Is attached to one particular toy or object
  • Does not smile
  • Appears to have problems hearing

(NIMH, 2011)

children with asd in general education classrooms
Children with ASD in General Education Classrooms
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

…ensure that students with disabilities have access to education and they are protected from discrimination based on having a disability.

….IDEA requires consideration of students’ needs for assistive technology during the development of their individualized education programs (IEPs).

(Dell et. al, 2008)

strategies for integrating students with autism into a general education classroom
Strategies for Integrating Students with Autism into a General Education Classroom
  • Teaching communication and social competence
  • Including personalized IEP goals into the natural flow of classroom instruction
  • Teaching and providing opportunities for independence
  • Creating a classroom environment that includes all children
  • Generalizing and maintaining new skills

(Schwartz et. al., n.d.)

assistive technologies and autism
Assistive Technologies and Autism

Many children can benefit from the use of an augmentative communication system. An augmentative communication system is any approach that supports, enhances, or adds to the way a person tells you something.

Augmentative communication may include:

  • direct movement of person or object to communicate
  • using gestures or body actions to convey meaning
  • using real object to convey messages
  • using picture representations
  • using the voice without conventional words
  • using written messages (pre-written or self written using word processing technology)
  • using sign language gestures

(MOE, 2000)

carly fleischmann
Carly Fleischmann

Diagnosed in early childhood with severe autism, Carly was unable to communicate through speech. At age 13,while working with her speech therapist Barbara Nash, Carly began typing words. Much to the surprise of her family, therapists and doctors, Carly was able to communicate and was in fact a very intelligent, literate young woman. Her story was chronicled in an ABC News Health Report by John McKenzie.

carly s use of social media
Carly’s Use of Social Media

One of the many ways Carly finds to communicate with peers as well as admirers around the globe is the use of the social network Facebook (she also blogs, has a twitter account and contributes to various wikis). Carly has even worked as a blogger for CNN host Larry King.

Carly’s Facebook Page:

Carly’s Blog for Larry King:

Carly’s Twitter Page:!/carlysvoice

meeting the educational social needs of students with asd
Meeting the Educational & Social Needs of Students with ASD

Social Stories Intervention Methodology

According to Gray and Garland (1993), the goal of social stories is not to change an individual’s behavior but rather to expose the individual to a better understanding of an event thereby encouraging an alternative and proper response. They should;

  • Define a specific target behavior or concern
  • Identify an appropriate replacement behavior
  • Be written from the child’s perspective
  • Include pictures or drawings to help the child relate to the desired behavior
  • Include a ratio of one directive sentence for every two to five sentences that are either descriptive, perspective, or both.
social media as an assistive technology
Social Media as an Assistive Technology


SQUAG (pronounced Skwag)

Squagis a social networking site specifically designed for children and teens with autism. Hosted by Squag, Inc, this social networking site provides the autistic child or teen with a safe place to interact with their autistic peers while under the close supervision of family members, teachers, therapists and site monitors.



Social Networking (media) technologies have many positive uses in schools and libraries. They are an ideal environment for teens to share what they are learning or to build something together online. The natures of the medium allows teens to receive feedback from librarians, teachers, peers , parents and others. Social networking technologies create a sense of community (as do the physical library and school) and in this way are already aligned with the services and programs of the library and/or school.

(YALSA, n.d.)


Social Networking (i.e. blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking, tagging and wikis) tools give teens meaningful ways to use and improve reading and writing skills. All social networking software requires teens to read and write. When a teen…

  • Creates a profile on a social networking site
  • Posts or comments on a blog
  • Adds or edits content in a wiki
  • Searches for social content
  • Consults peers online as part of research…

Reading and writing skills are required. That is why these technologies are often referred to as the read/write web.

(YALSA, n.d.)


Life Skills

Along with the educational benefits of using social networking (media), there are developmental goals that can be attained through their use as well. Through the use of social networks (media), teens can;

  • Learn about boundaries and expectations
  • Develop a commitment to learning
  • Develop social and cultural competence
  • Become empowered through the development of their skills
  • Develop a personal identity/voice in the context of community
  • Be afforded the opportunity to work with role models

(YALSA, n.d.)

for students with asd
For Students with ASD….

The utilization of social media offers the possibility of opening up an avenue through which these students can attain educational and social success while at the same time finding a means of self expression more easily afforded their non-autistic peers. With close supervision by family members, teachers and therapists, students with ASD, such as Carly Fleischmann, may find a means through which to learn, develop social and life skills and communicate with the world.


Autism Spectrum Disorders: Pervasive Developmental Disorders. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://nimhautismspectrum.pdf

Grandin, T. (2008) The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Gray, C. A., & Garland, J. D. (1993). Social Stories. Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information. Focus on Autistic Behaviors, 8, 1-10.

McKenzie, J. (2008). Autism Breakthrough: Girl’s Writings Explain her Behavior and Feelings. ABC News Health Report. Retrieved August 2, 2011 from

Ryan, J. B., Hughes, E. M., Katsiyannis, A., McDaniel, M. &, Sprinkle, C. (2011). Research-Based Educational Practices for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 43(3), 56-64.

Schwartz, I. S., Billingsley, F. F., McBride, B. M. (n.d.). Including children with autism in inclusive preschools: Strategies that work. Retrieved August 5, 2011 from

Squag: Connecting Kids with Autism through Social Networking.(2010). Support for Special Needs. [Website]. Retrieved from

Teaching Students with Autism: A Resource Guide for Teachers. (2000). [Special Publication] British Columbia: Ministry of Education.

Teens & Social Networking in School & Public Libraries: A Toolkit for Libraries & Library Workers.(n.d.). Young Adult Library Services Association. Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

The Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders. (December 18, 2009). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 58(SS10);1-20. Retrieved from