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El Paso ISD looks to technology to teach students with autism

As a part of El Paso Independent School District’s technology initiative, students are getting access to laptops, e-textbooks and tablets. Currently EPISD is the only school district offering innovative technology programs to to special education students, specifically those with autism.

Autism is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. The Centers for Disease Control says 1 in 68 American children are autistic, which is a ten-fold increase in 40 years. Autistic students number in the hundreds at El Paso’s three largest school districts: 578 at EPISD, 482 at YISD and more than 340 at SISD.

EPISD couldn’t specify how much it costs to educate autistic students. But says the state’s funding formula is based on how many hours of specialized services a student requires.

“It’s very expensive,” said EPISD Asst. Superintendent of Special Education Pam Howard. “Sometimes it impacts what we do and how we do it.”

Educating students with autism requires individually tailored programs based on where the student falls on the spectrum of characteristics, ranging from mild to severe. While some students only require some social counseling, others are completely non-verbal, requiring anything from physical, speech and occupational therapy, and a behavior analyst.

EPISD is learning these kids can also benefit from technology, since many are visual thinkers, or non-verbal finding it easier to associate words with pictures. The district is using AustiMe, an app that students, teachers and parents access on smart phones and tablets. It allows the student to visually see their day’s schedule, keeping them in a routine.

“Sometimes we think is so easy to go into a cafeteria, but there’s so many stimulants going on in there it kind of keeps them in check and they can know what’s happening next,” Howard said. “It’s really really exciting. It ties into innovative technology.”

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