review: computer technology for autism

In References on June 30, 2009 at 7:59 am

Good starting point.

It’s review of early 1980s and has a limited number of studies on computer use with students with autism.


Panyan, M. V. (1984). Computer technology for autistic students. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 14, 375-382.


To review the literature related to the use of computers with autistic individuals.


à Only 6 studies were reviewed; The early 1980’s studies (e.g., Pleinis & Romanczyk, 1983; Panyan, McGregor, Bennett, Rysticken, & Spurr, 1984) were more systematic evaluation of computers on autistic students.



To identify specific learning problems or styles associated with autism from the research literature and link these with the unique aspects of computer-based instruction.


“The inability of autistic students to learn academic and social skills has been traced to attentional and motivational deficits (Koefel, Rincover, & Egel, 1982). Stereotypic behaviors, resistance to change, and language delays further impede the development of these individuals. Collectively, these characteristics contribute to learning problems of enormous proportion.”


Attentional deficits

“Autistic children are sometimes mistakenly viewed as being hearing impaired due to the fact that they sometimes appear to ignore salient cues while actually focusing on more subtle cues.”

“When the three cues, an auditory, visual, and tactile stimulus, were presented in isolation, autistic individuals made the selected response in the presence of only one of the three cues. This phenomenon of attending to one aspect of the learning situation (sometimes an incidental one) has been termed stimulus overselectivity.”

“Anderson & Rincover (1982) have indiciated that autistic students are capable of responding to more than one cue at a time if these cues are relatively close in physical proximity to the trained stimulus. Since the stimuli that become functional for an autistic child are those in his/her restricted field or “tunnel” of vision, they conceptualize this response pattern as similar to tunnel vision. Thus, stimulus control may not be solely a function of the number of cues but rather may be the relative location of cues.”

“Computer-based instruction may help to alleviate this type of stimulus control problem. Computer monitors enable many cues to be positioned relatively close to one another.” 


Another learning characteristic of autistic students is their insistence on sameness, reflected in their resistance to change.

Computers can provide consistent cues and reinforcement schedules unaffected by the variations typically observed in teachers’ behaviors.


Motivational deficits

Another characteristics that interferes with learning is an apparent lack of motivation.

Presentation of reinforcers offers limitless variations while simultaneously fulfilling the basic rules of immediacy and consistency. The images and sounds may be changed as the task proceeds, or when the stimuli begin to lose their reinforcing qualities. Additionally, the delivery of reinforcement would not disrupt ongoing instruction and could serve to make the entire learning experience a conditioned reinforcer. à the power of perceptual stimulation.


Communication difficulties and delays are perhaps the most prominent characteristics of autism. Therefore, in addition to the possibilities for improved instruction that the computer offers, its role in improving interactions should also be examined.  à In cooperatively arranged situations in autistic child is learning that his responses plus those of a peer are needed to effect change and to receive reinforcement.

Advantages of computer use

A computer enables a student to be in control of the learning situation rather than just a passive recipient of instruction.


The computer can provide an accurate record of the type and frequency of a student’s responses.


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