Special education - The art of inclusion

Autism creates special challenges, but an award-winning school is overcoming them, says Susannah Kirkman

Technology is an ideal medium for teaching children with autism, David Keeton, deputy head at The Forum School in Shillingstone, Dorset, believes.

"They don't have to cope with personal interaction or interpreting facial expressions when they use technology, and because they are less anxious, they are ready to learn," he says.

The Forum, a residential school that specialises in autism, uses a wide variety of software in all areas of the curriculum and in every aspect of life.

In art, pupils use software to create pictures in different media, including charcoal, paint and wax crayon. Musical activities range from composing on keyboards and mixing the sound into eight different channels for the most able, to picking up pre-composed pieces of music and placing them next to each other at the simplest level. Some pupils also operate digital video cameras, create stories and add music and special effects.

Outside, the school is planning to put digital cameras in nesting boxes, so that pupils can watch the birds feeding. Meanwhile, in science, maths and PE lessons, pupils can log data or compose graphs. In all subjects, differentiated software enables them to gain access to the curriculum at their own level.

Staff particularly appreciate programs such as SuccessMaker (see screenshots, above) that allow pupils to progress at their own pace. Pupils with autism find learning less daunting when they can take small steps.

Interactive whiteboards are the most useful hardware, as they give the least able a way into technology, says Alex White, the ICT technician. At The Forum, these are enhanced by the latest technologies, including an interactive overlap on the plasma screens, which means that pupils don't cast a distracting shadow when they stand in front of the screen.

Out of the classroom, emails and the webcam allow pupils to stay in contact with their parents, while staff are trained to use digital cameras and editing programs to record pupils' progress.

The Forum has been awarded the ICT Mark by Becta, the British Education Communications and Technology Agency, in recognition of the standard and maturity of its use of technology. It also received the Gold Arts Mark from the Arts Council for its outstanding arts education provision.

For more information on the Becta ICT Mark, visit schools.becta.org.uk.

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