iHope: How the iPad Opens Up the World of Autism

By Rhonda DeYoung

Locked inside the world of autism, frustration can settle in a child who is unable to communicate their feelings or needs to caregivers. Technology can provide a much needed, if imperfect, pipeline between them and the rest of the world.

“I try and come back from that helpless nowhere” described by one autistic young man, Tito. Even the less severe autistic child struggles with cognitive issues that inhibit learning, peer interaction, and an inability to focus. Many in the autism community are excited by the iPad’s potential for connecting the autistic with the broader world, and us with theirs.

Before the iPad and its mega-store of applications, electronic communication aids were expensive and drew unwanted attention to a child. Feelings and emotions were hard to decipher and learning meant one-on one therapies. The iPad has over 30 apps (and counting) designed to helped autistic individuals. These apps redefined learning for children who typically struggle with simple interpersonal interactions.

Once viewed as merely a play thing for the well-to-do, its streamlined, intuitive interface and versatility caught the eye of researchers. Now it is considered a legitimate therapy device for children with various autistic spectrum disorders.

Besides aiding in communication, the iPad has apps designed to build attention span, and develop emotional and cognitive skills, just to name a few uses. The app “Look in My Eyes” is designed to encourage eye contact, while one called “My Talk Tools Mobile” allows children who struggle with communication to convey ideas to those around them. Other apps focus on life skills. “Every Day Skills” teaches 40 independent living skills in a self-directed learning atmosphere.

Therapists sometimes use apps not even intended for autism therapy. The “Magic Piano” app improves focus while it encourages children to make their own music. Other therapies involve simple scheduler and to-do list type apps like “HomeRoutines”, which features reminders, checklists, and even awards gold stars for staying on track.

The iPad’s expansive screen and precise touch controls let undeveloped motor skills manipulate large images. Just a few clicks by parents or caregivers can provide a tailored at-home therapy regimen to meet the needs of their child. This available and relatively affordable technology allows families endless possibilities to grow cognitive skills and communicate with children who might have struggled otherwise – all without attracting the stigma of other devices.

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