AppTUalizate is a project that offers the students of the Autism Guru Private Foundation of Barcelona the necessary technological resources to acquire and develop skills that improve their quality of life. “It is about looking for that resource, strategy, application or technological tool that serves to work on a specific objective with each student in the school in order to train the student and achieve the objectives that we have in their individual program”, explains Pat Sánchez, special education teacher and educational psychologist at the Guru school. One of Pat’s jobs is to coordinate the technology, which they have been using for more than eight years.
The technology encompasses everything, from a tablet, to an application like Timing –it keeps track of the time–, going through sound-inhibiting helmets or the Wii console. The use of technology implies a constant search, “we are always looking for how to cover the new needs that we are finding,” says Pat. They have recently been able to test an application to learn global reading. “With three kids it has gone very well and with two it hasn’t, so for the two of them I’ll look for something else.”
The autistic students at the school are between the ages of 3 and 21 and have associated intellectual disabilities. When choosing technological tools, they not only take into account the different capacities of each one, but also their ages. “In the end technology is one more methodological tool that we incorporate on a daily basis to achieve specific objectives. The good thing about technology is that it arouses a lot of interest in the students and there you already have half a game won”, explains Pat. “For example, explaining the angles is complicated, but I have a ‘robot’ that allows me to explain them because I capture the interest of the students.
There are thirty-two students at the school and they work in five curricular areas:
- Autonomy and self-determination: The objective is for students to express their interests and needs. “It’s about facilitating the expression, that we are not the ones doing it,” says Pat. “For example, it’s snack time and I know that one of the students is going to ask me for juice and a nocilla sandwich because I know him, but that’s not what it’s about, we’re going to look for an application that allows the student to select between different options for him to say what he wants”. This first point also includes planning, the day-to-day organization. “For this there is a wonderful app from Fundación Orange called Día a Día”.
- Cognitive and motor skills: depending on each student, “for one the objective may be to increase the number of words in their vocabulary through Yo También Leo. On the other hand, for a group of eight students the objective may be to consolidate the content, reinforce it, and for that we use Smile and Learn. On the other hand, four students can be able to do augmented reality activities and when they learn about dinosaurs, for example, they can reinforce that content by seeing dinosaurs thanks to augmented reality.”
- Communication and social interaction: you work from the shared game, playing with others. “It’s not playing Mario on the Wii and that’s it. It’s about working on social skills: waiting your turn, knowing how to win, knowing how to lose, respecting social norms during the game, etc. We have collaborative and also competitive games. The Wii It becomes a great excuse because it motivates them a lot”.
- Organization and planning: It is about looking for resources to find solutions. “For example, I want to use the Skoogmusic, which is a device to make music that syncs with the tablet. It’s a really fun little device that turns notes into colors and lets you play music, but in order to use it I have to know where it is first, then where is the tablet to connect and synchronize them. This is the sequence of actions that I have to carry out to play the song that I want”. They also have the typical Lego accompanied by visual support to build robots. “Building a robot can take us three months and planning is important there because you also have to adopt different roles: there is a builder and a programmer, who will be the one who brings the robot to life. You have to know who does what.” Also keep in mind that when you finish using a tool you have to pick it up carefully to maintain order.
- conduct regulation: professionals know which moments produce a higher level of anxiety in each student. “That can lead to a behavioral problem and what we do is anticipate. For example, if going out to a party is difficult for one, then beforehand we give them inhibitory headphones and teach them how to use them, including how to put on a list of music that likes it. That way you can be at the party without suffering. We also use applications to do breathing exercises for ten minutes. If you also use an application with a screen that shows you when I expire and when I inhale, well, it’s one more element”.
For Pat the main quality of technology is that it manages to attract the interest of students. “Awakening interest in learning. In addition, technology does not take disability into account because you can adapt it according to the different activities and needs of each person. Something as simple as the language – we have students who speak Catalan and others Spanish -, you can change it in a moment. With technology you see the ability, it helps me build the ability.”
Another point in favor of technology is that it allows learning to be generalized. They use the same devices at home, so they can use them there too. “The problem with technology is that it is expensive, so it’s a good thing that there are entities like the Orange Foundation that put up the money so that we can have it. That way we can offer a quality education focused on the student and give them the tools to be able”.