Technology-Assisted Learning for Students with Moderate and Severe Developmental Disabilities

Technology-Assisted Learning for Students with Moderate and Severe Developmental Disabilities

Diane M. Browder (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Alicia Saunders (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA) and Jenny Root (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9441-5.ch017
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For students with moderate and severe developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability, technology can provide critical support for learning and life functioning. A growing body of research demonstrates the benefits of technology for these students to acquire academic skills, improve social functioning, and perform tasks of daily living. This chapter provides a description of this population and their learning needs. The research on technology applications for students with developmental disabilities is reviewed and synthesized. The review includes literature on technology to assist instruction and to provide options for student responding. Examples are provided of how technology can be applied to both instruction and assessment.
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Technology has transformed everyday life for many people in the 21st century, but for individuals with moderate and severe developmental disabilities it has especially opened doors of opportunity not previously available. Multiple studies have demonstrated that students with moderate and severe developmental disabilities can benefit from technology in learning academic skills (Knight, McKissick, & Saunders, 2013; Pennington, 2010), managing social skills (Ramdoss, et al., 2011), or performing daily living skills (Mechling, Gast, & Seid, 2010). Technology can also promote job-related learning (Morgan & Horrocks, 2011).

Ironically, students with developmental disabilities may not access these opportunities to the extent students who are nondisabled do. While the use of technology in schools may be as high as 98% of students overall (National Center for Education Statistics, 2008), school access for students with intellectual disability may be much lower (Edyburn, 2013; Wehmeyer, Smith, Palmer, & Davies, 2004). Educators need more information on how technology can be used to assist instruction and promote new opportunities for learning.

Technology also can offer a means for students with developmental disabilities to show what they know. All states are required to provide alternate assessments for students who cannot participate in the state’s general assessment with or without accommodations. Students with moderate and severe disabilities often are candidates for these alternate assessments. In contrast, Towles-Reeves, Kearns, Kleinert, and Kleinert (2009) found from 17-26% of these students only had emerging symbolic communication and another 8-11% were presymbolic. As Kleinert, Kearns, and Kleinert (2010) note communication is critical to learning and demonstrating achievement in state assessments. Technology can be crucial to promoting communicative competence for students who lack speech.

Given the proliferation of technology in today’s world and its potential to promote learning and quality of life for individuals with moderate and severe developmental disabilities, the need exists to identify the research on how to use technology effectively with these students. This chapter includes a brief overview of the population, research on technology for this group of students, and examples of how the technology can be applied in interventions. The implications for practice, including assessment, will also be reviewed. The objectives of this chapter are:

  • 1.

    To provide a brief overview of students with moderate and severe developmental disabilities and their learning characteristics that may be relevant to technology use.

  • 2.

    To synthesize the research on the use of technology with this population focusing on academic, social/ communicative, and daily living skills.

  • 3.

    To offer examples of how this research can be used to plan instruction and assessment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Academic Learning: The acquisition of skills that form the core of the general curriculum in schools including mathematics, language arts, social studies, and science.

Visual Supports: “Any visual display that supports the learner engaging in a desired behavior or skills independent of prompts” ( Wong et al., 2014 , p. 22).

Alternate Assessment: A system used by the state for students who cannot take the general assessment with our without accommodations. The alternate assessment is based on the state’s grade level content standards, but sets alternate achievement standards that reduce the complexity and scope of the content.

Moderate and Severe Developmental Disabilities: Disabilities that (1) are manifested before the age of 22, (2) are chronic and severe, (3) can be attributed to a mental or physical impairment or both, (4) result in substantial functional limitations in major life activities, and (5) require lifelong need for special services that are individually planned and coordinated ( Handleman, 1986 ).

Computer-Assisted Instruction: CAI is an evidence-based practice for students with ASD and includes the use of computers for teaching students academic skills and promoting communication and language development ( Odom et al., 2010 ).

Portable Device Applications: Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are portable, palmtop computers used for personal organization and have features such as customizability and capacity for large amounts of data.

Daily Living Skills: Ability in activities that relate to everyday functioning in life including personal care and grooming, food preparation, household chores, use of community resources, community mobility, and leisure skills.

Social and Communication Skills: Ability in being able to convey information to another person, comprehend messages received, understand the social demands of a context and respond appropriately.

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