iPads May Help Children with Autism Communicate

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The iPad was a very popular gift for the holidays this past year, with some experts estimating between 5 and 7 million sold. But the Apple tablet touch-screen computer may be more than just a fun entertainment item. For autistic children, the iPad may also be an effective device for teaching communication and social skills.

Researchers at Nova Southeaster University’s Mailman Segal Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida have started a program to supply new iPads to 18 classrooms at the school’s Baudhuin Preschool, a provider of services to children with autism spectrum disorders.

Read: Doctors Using iPhones and iPads for Medical Information

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"Autism is a lifelong disability that affects the way children communicate and relate to others and the world around them," said Roni Leiderman, dean of the institute. "We are grateful for the incredible generosity and support of our donors, who are responsible for the success of this initiative."

Autistic children, whether high or low-functioning, tend to be visual learners who gravitate toward technology and screens, which may explain why the iPad has become so popular among parents and autism experts. Although there are other computers designed for children with autism, many prefer the iPad because it is cheaper, faster, more versatile, more user-friendly, and portable.

Read: Targeted Intervention Improves Social Skills in Toddlers with Autism

And it has successfully helped some autistic children be able to communicate their thoughts to adults for the first time.
According to San Francisco Weekly, since the iPad was launched last year, developers have designed several applications for the device specifically targeted toward users with special needs. Autism Speaks lists several that they recommend for parents and children affected by autism on their website, including:

  • Behavior Tracker Pro: An application that can track and graph behaviors to support behavioral treatment plans for children with autism.
  • Proloquo2Go: This very popular application is a full-featured communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking. In August, Proloquo2Go was ranked number 83 out of thousands of education applications.
  • iAssist Communicator: Designed not only for individuals with autism, but also those with other developmental disabilities. This app specifically focuses on the needs of young learners and incorporates photos rather than more abstract drawings to promote communication.
  • Learn to Talk: This is an electronic flash card application that uses both sight and sound to teach toddlers basic vocabulary words and boost language skills.

Both the iPad and the iPod Touch are part of research trials around the world that are studying the use of new technologies for developmentally challenged individual, and so far, most of the studies have been positive. One researcher said that these technologies give children and their families “a greater potential to live healthy, fulfilling, and productive lives.”

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