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Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism, part 2

I missed that I had already posted about my mater’s thesis, but I decided to keep this post along with the original because some additional background information is here. Unfortunately, much of this information is the same as or similar to my earlier post. I apologize for this inconvenience.

Here is a PDF of one version of my Master’s thesis presentation, Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism. You may have to navigate around the page a bit to find my paper. I just visited the webpage and found several other papers by different authors on my page. I think that Research Gate automatically loads research projects that it thinks may be of interest to its readers.

This presentation was revised too many times to count, and I have no idea if I posted the final version to Research Gate. Regardless of which version this is, I think that my earlier research may be helpful to some people. There was a time that many people in special education were told to only use adapted general education supplies and textbooks. I even remember a science teacher from another school once telling me that his school threw away the special textbooks designed for students with reading disabilities and replaced those books with the same books that the general education students were using. This teacher told me that his students’ test scores went down instead of up, but some politicians of the day firmly believed that students with significant disabilities were being held back because they were not using general education textbooks and supplies.

Around that same time, my principal was conducting a tour and mentioned in front of me that my computer lab students were using the same software that their counterparts in general education use. Fortunately for me, that particular class was indeed using mass marketed software instead of software designed for students with significant disabilities.

I also heard a local politician declare that special education was a failure because we put students in smaller classes, with specialized textbooks and materials, and they still cannot pass their tests. This was a complete oversimplification because many students with disabilities are able to take and pass standard exams. It is also, in my opinion, unrealistic for a person with an IQ of 40 to be able to pass a test designed for people with IQs of 100. The educational evaluations that I read no longer state an IQ score, but the same concept still exists. How is a nonverbal student who is just beginning to learn basic communication skills going to pass the test? Why were some politicians dictating that the solution was to remove the specialized materials and expose all students to the same instructional supplies? How many of those same politicians had degrees in special education, or even in education? I heard too many times from a few popular politicians of the time that special education is a failure because students were not being exposed to the same instructional materials as their non-disabled peers. All people who receive special education services were lumped together by these politicians, regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities.

All of this made me think that I really needed to study whether or not my students with the most severe forms of autism really were helped by using software that was designed for students in general education. What I learned was that my students were able to learn to use the computer mouse more quickly when they had regular access to specialized software than when they used the same mass produced software that my students with less severe autism or intellectual disabilities were able to use. My gut instinct told me that specialized software was an important aspect of my students’ education. Now, I had the data to justify my position.

I focused on students with severe autism because this was a fairly new group of students in my school at that time. In the past, students with similar learning needs and behaviors would have been “dual diagnosis” students, diagnosed as having both a severe intellectual disability and severe autism. Another common diagnosis when I began teaching was severe intellectual disability (more commonly referred to as a cognitive delay in my school thirty plus years ago) with autistic tendencies. It made no difference to me as a teacher what the official diagnosis was. If a student would rather chew on the computer mouse or bang it on the table, it was my job to teach the student to use the mouse appropriately. But for this project, I only studied my students who were classified as having autism.

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Specialized Computer Lab Ideas

M.S. Educational Technology Specialist

My first master’s degree was M.S. Edu. in Special Education: Severe and Multiple Disabilities from Hunter College in New York City. My second master’s degree was M.S. Educational Technology Specialist from New York Institute of Technology. That second degree is what eventually convinced me to begin my journey toward obtaining a doctorate. I have decided to make public the presentation that I created for my second master’s thesis. I am very proud of my research presentation and have posted it to ResearchGate. A pdf of that presentation is also included toward the bottom of this page.

I compared two different types of software that could be used to teach students with severe autism to click a mouse button. At the time, teachers were required to adapt general education materials to the needs of students in special education. Many people in government had the philosophy that students in special education would show educational improvement if they had access to the same experiences and materials as their general education peers. My research showed that students learned better using software that was specifically designed for their developmental levels and educational abilities and needs. After this study, I was given more freedom to use software that was specifically designed for the needs of students with significant disabilities if their educational needs could not be reasonably met using general academic software.

The presentation contains a large number of statistics; my advisor at the time loved statistics. But there are also some real-language slides that summarize what all of that math means for any readers who are not math-people. I was happy that I could create something that both helped me to earn another master’s degree (and become “highly qualified” by being certified in my subject area as recommended by No Child Left Behind) and also helped the students in my school and beyond. The research is over ten years old now, but the struggle continues to find appropriate ways to teach our students with the most intensive learning and language delay difficulties.

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