*For further details about Citewriter, please click on the screencast I made HERE
The at-risk school program I currently coordinate curriculum for has had many students on the autism spectrum come through the doors. Having a family connection to this diagnosis has made me want to explore tools that would help address the unique needs and challenges that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) contain. ASDs are categorized as a group of development disorders. They primarily impact how individuals understand what they see and hear and how they make sense of the world (Alberta Education, 2004 p. 4). They can also tend to have difficulty with communication and social skills.
In many ways, the unique layout and small personal settings of our program lend themselves well to the success of students with autism in our program. Although our program may address their social needs, the academic needs tend to be just as great of a challenge for students as they were in a traditional classroom setting. ASD has common features, however “no two individuals share an identical profile” (Alberta Education, 2004 p. 2) Thus the accommodations can vary significantly. That being said there are several effective practices for students with ASD. These range from giving students multiple opportunities, tasks are structured with clear requirements, and organization is facilitated. One tool that could address the needs of ASD students in order to thrive academically is called Citelighter (www.citelighter.com).
Citelighter is a web-based platform that helps students with scholarly writing and research. Students can use the tool when they select articles and capture text, Citelighter will automatically create a citation and bibliography. They can follow tutorials and add notes to their research. It is not meant to completely replace active writing instruction, but can work as a beneficial tandem tool. As Christopher Wyatt writes, ”If we can use technology to help students during the prewriting process, technology might have pedagogical benefits for students with ASDs” (Wyatt, 2010 p. 13) Citelighter’s online presence matches with the goals for ASD students to have student-centered environment. It allows students to direct their own learning process (Bryant, 2011 p. 29). Citelighter can also be done in complete solitude, which according to Attwood (2007), can help to relax some with the ASD diagnosis as they can better relax, focus, and remove themselves from a high-trigger environment. On the contrary, Citelighter’s engaging visual format and mode of the platform can create a refuge for students to explore in-depth and at their own pace (Attwood, 2007). Citelighter could also be a tool that would smooth the transition to collaborative writing practices for all students (Wyatt, 2010 p. 36).
A significant feature of Citelighter that would also be helpful for the student-centralized environments that are crucial for success for students diagnosed with ASD is the Teacher Tools link. This link helps teachers track student progress by assessing a student’s use of sources, time, and what citations they have collected and if students are assigned a group project, a teacher can their participation and learning. These tools are crucial to help a student with ASD where “the opportunity to progress at a pace commensurate with their interests and ability level is ideal” (Bryant, 2011 p. 21). Using these services along with an application like Citelighter also can provide a framework for ASD students that struggle with appropriate social skills. Most students with ASD (including many I have worked with) know that they do not function like their peers. But using the organizational tools provided in Citelighter could help break down the walls “created by awkwardness and other unusual behaviors that can be a deterrent to effective social interaction” (Bryant, 2011 p. 28). When Citelighter can be employed with group projects and provide monitoring and organization formatted by the teacher, it can be particularly helpful to those with ASD to help them succeed in an academic task and working with their peers.
It can be extremely challenging for students with ASD and teachers who instruct them because of the range of abilities and challenge that are unique to each individual. The use of a tool such as Citelighter provides more options to personalize their learning and help facilitate personal interaction. Citelighter is definitely a tool that I will be incorporating my school program next school year.
Alberta Education. Special Programs Branch. Essential Components of Educational Programming for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Standards for Special Education. Edmonton, Alberta. June 2004.
Bryant, Lorna. The Academic and Social Implications of Virtual Learning Environments for Gifted High School Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Little Rock, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Little Rock. December 2011.
Wyatt, Christopher. Online Pedagogy: Designing Writing Courses for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota. May 2010.