Graphic Organizers and Students with ASD: Supporting Learning


As described by the organization Autism Speaks, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors” (“What is Autism?”). According to Whalon & Hart (2011), “despite variation in reading development associated with ASD, studies consistently show that students with ASD who are able to read frequently have difficulty interpreting text” (p. 243). Furthermore, their research indicates that poor reading comprehension results correlate with low vocabulary and oral language scores (Whalon & Hart, 2011, p. 243).

In order to improve the learning environment for students with ASD, teachers must provide access to vocabulary development, and strategies that will support text comprehension and promote conversation. One way to accomplish this is through the use of graphic organizers.

Hart & Whalon (2008) list graphic organizers as one of 20 strategies educators can utilize to facilitate learning of students with ASD.  Graphic organizers support students, and especially those with ASD, by highlighting concepts and illustrating relationships between them. Furthermore, these organizers assist students in organizing their own ideas and creating a framework for understanding and discussion (Hart & Whalon, 2008, p. 116).

Poppet is a digital mind mapping tool that enables both students with ASD and educators to easily create graphic representations of learning. From developing vocabulary webs to story maps, students would be able to use this tool to demonstrate learning, build comprehension and access a support “to engage in the social aspects of reading and language arts instruction” (Whalon & Hart, 2011, p. 246).

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Popplet is a program that is available on both the iPad and via the web. There are free and paid versions. With a paid version, students are able to create multiple mind maps, which can be shared with collaborators.  In addition to concretely depicting the relationship between ideas, Poppet allows for the embedding of images, drawings and videos. This feature would support students with ASD in comprehension and vocabulary building. Since Popplets are able to be shared digitally, educators could create organizers specific to a task, and share them with students. If students did not have access to an email address, they could build their own Popplet based on a graphic representation of the map created by their teacher.

In addition to these features, Popplet has a simple interface that is easy to navigate across platforms, and would be accessible by students in an elementary school setting. Bubbles are added with a simple click, and color can be easily changed to further emphasize relationships between ideas. This tool could be shared and modeled via classroom SMARTboards.


Hart, Juliet E., and Kelly J. Whalon. “Promote Academic Engagement and Communication of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Inclusive Settings.” Intervention in School and Clinic 44.2 (2008): 116-20. ProQuest. Web. 23 May 2015.

Whalon, Kelly J., and Juliet E. Hart. “Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Literacy Instruction: An Exploratory Study of Elementary Inclusive Settings.” Remedial and Special Education 32.3 (2011): 243-55. ProQuest. Web. 23 May 2015.

What Is Autism? (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from