Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism

I wrote the thesis for my second master’s degree back in 2007, but some people still read it fifteen years later. At that time, there was a huge push in special education to modify general education supplies instead of using textbooks and other supplies that were designed for students who needed specialized materials. I even knew a science teacher who had to dispose of his adapted textbooks; his school gave him regular books for his students. That teacher reported that just as he expected, and in opposition to what some politicians believed, the students fared worse in the science exam when they used regular textbooks. This got me thinking about my students with even more severe disabilities.

Around that same time, the definition of autism started changing so that more students with very severe disabilities were classified as having severe autism instead of having severe to profound intellectual disabilities (sometimes with autistic tendencies or what was then called dual diagnoses). My tipping point came when my principal was showing her supervisor my computer lab and bragged about how I was adapting regular software and supplies to fit the needs of my students and no longer using specialized supplies. Of course, the adapted equipment was only hidden for the duration of the walk-through, but in general we had far fewer adapted items in the computer lab than we had two years earlier.

After finishing this study, I no longer had to use adapted regular supplies with all of my students. My students who needed specialized equipment and software could once again use those items. I could point to my research to prove that specialized materials helped many of my students. This type of research is sometimes called teacher action research because the primary function of my research (besides being a requirement of my master’s program) was to help me improve as a teacher in my technology lab.

Here is the pdf of the slide show that accompanied my thesis, Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism. You have to scroll down the page a bit to find the “View full-text” link. Unfortunately, this slideshow/pdf was created before I leaned how to format PowerPoint and pdfs for screen readers. I can no longer find the full paper, but this version may help some people who work with students who have significant developmental delays.

By Jeanne Stork

I am a special education teacher who supervised a technology lab for twenty five years. The lab had specialized software, adapted mice, additional adapted hardware, and picture symbol communication aids for students whose significant disabilities made it difficult for them to use the general computer lab. I taught students who could not climb the stairs to my lab in their classrooms. I also assisted teachers and other personnel in my school with their technology needs as time permitted. Before moving to the technology lab, I was a classroom teacher with a classroom computer that students and staff could use. Now, I am a semi-retired substitute teacher.

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