Students on the Autism Spectrum: Making Animated Videos

autism_studentsOne in 68 children today is estimated to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD often face significant learning challenges. As a spectrum disorder, ASD affects children in different ways.

Some autistic children have trouble communicating—they may avoid eye contact or repeat certain noises or phrases. Others have intense reactions to sounds, tastes, or smells—a child with ASD may be terrified by a flickering light or car alarm, or refuse to eat anything that’s not white in color. Others are unable to shake an obsession with a specific subject—trains, dinosaurs, Spongebob Squarepants. Some children become withdrawn; others repeat the same actions over and over again; others refuse to do anything that isn’t part of their normal routine.

These characteristics can pose problems in structured environments like school. The sheer range of challenges autistic children face means that there is no one universally successful program or approach.

Many teachers and parents are turning to technology to support students with ASD and foster academic, behavioral, and social growth. There are apps to help students deal with social situations, improve their pronunciation or vocabulary, learn how to write their names, or develop simple but important life skills like cleaning up their bedrooms.

In his book, Life, Animated, Ron Suskind chronicles the tool that had the biggest impact on his autistic son, Owen: Disney films. Owen watched movies like The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book over and over again—improving his auditory processing skills. With the help of his family and therapists, he studied the interpersonal relationships between characters to better understand social cues and gain an increased sense of empathy. He even organized a “Disney Club” at his school, helping him connect with his peers.

Today, students with ASD don’t have to just watch animated films—they can create them. New software makes producing animated videos easy and fun, and offers a powerful channel of expression for students who struggle with verbal communication.

“For students on the spectrum animated filmmaking is an escape from reality — an escape from all the therapy sessions and interventions. They can create their own world, opening a whole new area of experience,” says Dr. Alisa Wolf, Founder of Actors for Autism.

Traditionally, parents and teachers have used gestures, sign language, or written words to help give non-verbal students a voice. Many assistive apps allow students to communicate using pictures. Animation provides an even more effective means for students to tell stories, convey emotions, and demonstrate knowledge of specific subject areas.

Many students with ASD have trouble engaging in developmentally appropriate “make believe” games. Creating animated films gives these children an opportunity to hone their social, language, and communication skills through imaginative play. In the process of creating a video, students construct narratives, develop characters, and dream up hypothetical conversations.

Teachers can also create animated video lessons to more effectively reach students with ASD, who sometimes have trouble concentrating amid the sensory distractions of the classroom. An autistic student may find it impossible to ignore whispers, rustling papers, and tapping feet while listening to a teacher lecture about fractions. When that same lesson is presented in the form of an animated video, however, the student can tune out distractions by putting on headphones and watching it on a tablet or laptop. This makes it much easier for him to concentrate on the material at hand. The student can also repeat the lesson as many times as he needs to achieve a full understanding of the topic.

“A lot of ASD students are visual learners – a need which is not always satisfied by the auditory class model,” says Dr. Wolf. “Learning visually allows these students to use their creativity, and flourish.”

At GoAnimate, we’re thrilled to help empower students with ASD. Students today can use GoAnimate to impart their knowledge and articulate their views on everything from photosynthesis to presidential elections to their school’s dress code policy. GoAnimate’s text-to-speech function allows all students to broadcast their opinion, without the need to record audio. Intuitive drag-and-drop menus are easy for students of all levels to use. We’ve heard from tons of parents who are ecstatic to have found a helpful tool that their children love to use.

More and more students every year are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The challenges these students, their parents, and their teachers face are not insignificant. But technological innovations continue to increase the number of solutions available to meet these students’ unique needs. Apps and software like GoAnimate can help students with ASD find their voice in the classroom—and in doing so, transform their learning experiences in and out of school.