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How the iPad Can Help Kids with Autism


Most of us think of the iPad as Apple's cool gadget to add to our tech arsenals. For the parents of some autistic children, however, the iPad is a near-miracle.

SF Weekly profiled the Rosa family of Redwood City, CA; their 9-year-old, Leo, has "intense autism" and "he is not conversational, he learns very slowly, and he has been prone to violent outbursts," reported his mother Shannon Rosa in the article (read it in full to get a better picture of the family's harrowing struggle with ASD). Leo had previously played with Rosa's iPod Touch, but when she handed him an iPad she'd won in a raffle, he took to it instantly.

What draws autistic children—some of who cannot grasp daily tasks such as dressing or handwashingso naturally to the iPad? The main explanation the article offers is that autistic children know what to expect when they tap or slide on the iPad, but they cannot anticipate human expressions and reactions, which frustrates them. Even things like drawing are easier on the iPad, because pencils and crayons are difficult for autistic children to handle.

But it's not just the predictable tapping action of the iPad that's helpful. Certain apps have proven useful for autistic children, tooparticularly ones that match fun graphics to words and actions, and help the child visualize a task. When an autistic child watches a step-by-step guide to handwashing on the iPad, for example, he can predict how to do it in real life (as was the case with a child in an autism-iPad study conducted in Australia).

Some of the apps mentioned in the article:

  • Stories2Learn, which lets you create a story demonstrating a concept (like turn-taking) and record your own dialogue ($13,99, compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad)
  • Proloquo2Go lets the user line up photographs, which stand for words, and then will speak the sentence for you. The SF Weekly article reported it ranked as the 83rd most popular education app (among thousands). Plus: the price of the app (and iPad) is cheaper than a traditional AAC (Augmentative Communication Device). ($189.99, compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad).
  • The First Then Visual Schedule App lets you create flow charts of activities (like getting dressed) with voice recordings and your own photos. ($9.99, compatible with iPhone and iPod Touch).

Are there any parents of autistic children who have used the iPad? Do you think these apps can be helpful?