Glendale school uses touch-screen computers to help teach severely autistic students

Glendale school uses touch-screen computers to help teach severely autistic students
A student counts on a touchscreen computer at Tobinworld's Brill School of Autism, in Glendale. (Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press)

A Glendale-based nonprofit school is using a new computer system that allows severely autistic students to learn foundational skills.

Tobinworld's Brill School of Autism, which includes about 80 low-functioning students, is using touch-screen computers to help autistic students learn how to count from one to 10, memorize colors and recognize safety signs.


The school utilizes an online precision-teaching program, which is a method of teaching that targets basic skills and uses a frame-like approach that reinforces known skills while introducing new ones.

"It's an accelerated form of learning, and it's evidence-based teaching," said Ray Hairapatian, principal of the Brill School of Autism.

In evidence-based teaching, each student's work is recorded in a database that is monitored by an administrator, who then gathers the information and compiles it into reports for teachers and parents. The data helps the school keep track of how a student is doing during each session.

By the following school year, a new goal is created for the student through evidence-based research.

"If something is too intensive, we'll find out why and go back to the drawing board," Hairapatian said. "Whatever the case may be, we're looking at ways to improve it, and the kids have responded really well to it."

While touch-screen computers have been used in Tobinworld for some time, they're a new feature in the Brill School of Autism, said Judy Weber, Tobinworld's executive director. The computers cost $3,000 each, Weber said, and Brill currently has 100 of them.

Brill students range from 5 to 22 years old. In each classroom, Hairapatian said a teacher and four instructional aides walk around, monitoring students and praising their success.

For example, a fifth-grader may be functioning at a kindergarten level. The school's goal is to have that student counting from one to 10 by the end of the year. To achieve that, the online program displays 20 stars on a screen, and the fifth-grader must point to 10 and stop.

If the fifth-grader exceeds 10, they hear a buzz, Hairapatian said. If the student stops at 10, they're rewarded with treats. As students master lessons, they move on to the next level of the program.

If a student performs well in online precision teaching, they graduate to traditional classrooms at Tobinworld, Hairapatian added.

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