The UDL Educational Technology Guide 2019-2020: Technology for Special Education

John F. O'Sullivan

Section 20 Autism Writing Guide

For students that are high functioning autism setting goals and expectations is very important. With good structure, we are proactive instead of reactive, and writing hit on a number of weaknesses that high functioning autism students have. There are deficits in language, lack of understanding of social information that translates to difficulty in creative writing. Often times students with autism do not like the act of handwriting. Some of that is language based. In many cases, they have difficulty with the fine motor coordination that is required for writing. When you tell students to write a story about what you did this weekend often time students with autism do not know what to write or why others would be interested, this same problem can translate to creative writing. It can be the case they do not understand the purpose of the activity. Having a checklist of some basic expectation will make it more likely that they do the work. This kind of communication can give meaning to what they do and help them to understand what work to do. 

There are many checklist applications to pick from. I choose one to get started. If you just make a list in Google Documents and share it with them, that is okay as well.

Wunderlist – To-Do & Task List Honorable Mention 
This is a very popular to-do-list app. There is also a website that you can access as well.

Write About This

You ever get students that can’t find something to write about? This app is filled with many writing prompts. This app is highly rated.

Word Banks

This might seem like a strange idea for writing. However, if you give a word bank of vocabulary and ask the students to use each, word, you are creating structure. The question they will ask out loud or to themselves is, “how will I do this?” The answer is to write a topic sentence then put each word into a sentence. You can give different students different words. Try giving them five words and having them writes a paragraph. Sometimes setting small goals and getting them started is the most important thing to do. 

Peer Story Telling

We do peer editing why not storytelling? Have students work in groups of two. Each student has to tell the basic story in a short time frame. If one student does not have an idea for the story, then have that specific student listen to someone that has a story to tell. The other student will model an example of a story. They will ask each other several questions. The questions they ask will be almost the same questions you would ask them. Some people think out loud better than in isolation. It is a good trick to break writer block. The movement within the classroom will benefit some of your students as well. 

Alternative Story Telling

Have them draw a picture, act out a scene or make a short video. Even just filling out a storyboard with stick figures and sharing and explaining with a peer can make a big difference. This creates movement and can calm some people and give them a short break from a lower interest activity. You can structure the activity so that it is short. Try using a timer. Think about it as a constructive break for the student that is aligned with the curriculum. You should consider the right combination of students, limiting the time and most importantly make the activity fun. Teachers that use such creative ideas get noticed by peers in a positive way. Years ago, I did activities like this, and no one else was. I was able to engage students that had significant problems, and they enjoyed the activities. This can add a new dimension to your teaching. The best part is today that most teachers will like and understand why you are doing this. 

Create Structured Writing Actives
I have taught writing, and I am a writer. You might find this surprising, but I did not like writing as a child. The fact that I am dyslexic, and several years behind in writing did not help. The truth is a good teacher can overcome this. The first thing we must do is stop making assumptions. Some people have a hard time making up a story and using descriptive language. We often just assume people can make up a story from thin air. It is hard to believe in a time with Netflix and internet videos that people exist that struggle to tell a story with creative writing.

I recommend structured writing assignments. This means you give them part of the story and write about what happens next. This might mean you give them a picture and have them write about what happens next. You can have them draw a picture and then write about it. You might want to be careful about using Mad-Libs with middle school students. The idea of leaving the students to figure it out is not a good option. This problem is real. The worst thing that can happen is it does not work. If you understand that as a teacher, you can be creative and make the problem smaller and more manageable is the right move. 

Graphic Organizers

Google Keep Author’s Pick 

I would recommend using Google Keep as a graphic organizer if you use Google Documents.

WriteWell Online Hidden Gem 

The website is excellent. You can access a number of online templates from this website/Chrome extension. The Chrome extension has a number of templates to help organize writing and help with basic editing. This extension gets very good reviews as well. This is a hidden gem.

Specific Graphic Organizers



Writing a Paragraph or Essay:


This is a software program that helps you draw graphic organizers and colorful diagrams. This program is for someone that wants to write curriculum.

Story Boards:

Write About This

This is a highly rated, dynamic writing prompt app for elementary school.

Word Prediction

Read & Write (Chrome Extension) Best of Class

This Chrome extension has just about everything. Read & Write has word prediction that is excellent. The app has a picture dictionary. The extension has speech to text and text to speech. The app creates a floating toolbar in the Chrome browser. This means a student can use Read & Write across all settings. It also means that a student can use Read & Write on any computer. That can eliminate the need for a laptop to travel with the student. It also means that a student could use this product at home with no extra cost or risk on the part of the school. The subscription is priced on the number of licenses purchased. The more licenses purchased, the less per license.

A teacher can get this extension for free. This allows teachers to test out the product.

Voice Dream Writer Honorable Mention   

This is a very good word prediction app. The app will type what you say. All you do is click on the microphone on the keyboard. It also makes some basic corrections. The app will even read back what you typed. This is an awesome app. 


Word Q US 1 (Chrome) 

This is a very good word prediction app.

Typing for Students with Greater Physical Limitations

Google Documents’ Voice Typing Best of Class Hidden Gem Author’s Pick  Game Changer 

Google Documents, also known as Google Docs, has speech to text that is free. Most humans have a Gmail account these days. Most people with disabilities and people that work with them have this great free technology already. What you should do is buy a headset with a microphone. I recommend one that connects with a USB port. 


This has to be one of the most interesting apps I have ever encountered. It is text to speech, customizable keyboard, and word prediction. If you have trouble spelling and talking this app would be a good fit. You can even create a keyboard exactly the way you want it. The app has several different things going on and as a result, is hard to place in a category.

Advanced Grammar and Spell Checkers

Grammarly Best of Class Author’s Pick 

This website will make a ton of corrections on your work. There is a web browser version that will correct what you are writing and a Microsoft Word add-on. They also have a paid version. This is great for a college student or someone that needs help correcting their writing on a regular basis.

Language Tool

This is a tool that corrects your grammar, spelling and sentence structure. There is a simple free version to use and paid options. The tool as not as well known. The Language Tool gets some good reviews and has some nice features. What I like best is that you can try the product without login in, downloading or giving any information. The Language Tools also has a few browser extensions that you can try. If you are in the market for a tool to correct your writing, this is worth a look.

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