A local startup offering digital tools for students on the autism spectrum is making its product available to the public.
Autism Expressed, founded by Michele McKeone, who runs an autistic support classroom at South Philadelphia high school, is rolling out its subscription-based curriculum to teach digital literacy. The program covers everything from web lingo to browsing and internet safety.
“The ultimate goal is to increase transition outcomes for students, to give them the skills they need to participate in our technology-driven society and economy,” explained McKeone, who partnered with numerous organizations to pilot the program, including the School District of Philadelphia, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Pediatric Wellness Network in Cherry Hill, N.J.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 88 children are identified as having an autism spectrum disorder — a figure that grew by 23 percent in the last three years.
Developed with her own students in mind, McKeone’s staged curriculum is a step-by-step resource to mobilize a large and growing population of students who will need digital skills to successfully transition to postsecondary education and the workforce.
The program focuses heavily on navigating Google products and can be accessed from any device with a modern browser. Paced lessons are set up like games, and students receive digital badges upon completion, making learning fun and accessible.
An outline of the Autism Expressed curriculum. (View full size.)
“Students absolutely love that part, and it’s providing opportunities for parents to simultaneously bolster their own digital literacy skills,” explained McKeone.
After students master the basics, Autism Expressed works to shape their online presence, helping them develop portfolios — and even resumes — that can be used to develop education or career paths.
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Since it started piloting earlier this year, Autism Expressed has generated a lot of buzz. The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and the Milken Family Foundation named the company a winner at the 2013 Education Business Plan Competition, where it took home $20,000.
“The prize money has been used to scale our platform so that we can offer our services to families and organizations that need it the most,” said McKeone.
The company has also benefitted from national media coverage and was recently nominated as “Startup of the Year” at the Philadelphia Geek Awards.
Prior to its public launch, hundreds of families and organizations had already expressed interest in purchasing the program, and the company has plans to further expand its reach.
“We’re talking with organizations that are working to employ individuals with autism in order to certify our students for positions of employment,” said McKeone, who will return to her classroom in the fall.
“This product is rooted in advocacy for my own students, who were all over the spectrum. Students are empowered and engaged and really able to express their interests.”
Autism Expressed is offering Generocity.org readers 10 percent off the subscription price. Simply use the code GEN13 and save. Families receive a 7-day free trial; organizations receive a 14-day free trial. Offer available through November 15, 2013.-30-
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