Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

iDevices for Autism
Sparking an interest in the community

by Carrie Bishop

April 01, 2012

Chalk it up to another win for the i-device. These pervasive gadgets are peaking interest in the autism community. Many kids with autism already use these high-tech tools as toys to watch movies and play games. Turns out the toy may be a useful teacher, too.

“There’s a real buzz in the community about using iPads with students with autism,” said Kristie Brown Lofland, educational consultant for the Indiana Resource Center for Autism.

According to Lofland, kids with autism can use the iPad and its high-tech cousins like the iPod, iTouch and smart phones to work on communication, speech language, social skills, functional life skills, academic skills, reinforcement, self management, fine motor skills, and more. She’s been amazed at what she’s seen some kids with autism do when working with an iPad.

Lofland speaks of an area kindergarten student who without the fine motor skills necessary to scribble, would slap, hit, even bite when asked to do pencil-paper work. Attempting the task stirred extreme frustration and anxiety within him. Then he began using the ABC Tracer app on the iPad. Through a series of steps - and use of the Talking Tom app as a reinforcer - he learned to write his name and other words on paper. His tantrums diminished. This took six weeks.

With this kind of anecdotal evidence it’s no wonder i-gadgets are becoming game changers for how teachers deliver educational services for kids of all abilities. Of course, Lofland cautions that it’s not the answer for every child.

“The iPad is not the panacea. It’s not the end-all be-all for all students and for some students i-devices are not applicable at all. Autism is such a spectrum, you have to look at each student’s needs,” she said.

Still, kids with autism are typically more comfortable communicating with inanimate objects, so do well with computers that don’t require social skills or human interaction. Plus, Lofland said most students with autism are visual learners.

Local applied behavior analysis (ABA) centers are also bringing i-gadgets into the fold. Little Star Center is one that is currently exploring the use of iPods and iPads to help facilitate augmentative communication.

Tim Courtney, director of research and training at Little Star Center, said the students who are using i-devices use them to answer questions, label things, and communicate wants and needs. “Most important to me is they can make requests and get their needs met and express what they are wanting at any given moment,” he said.

Laura Grant, board certified behavior analyst with Applied Behavior Center for Autism, said her center is also interested in i-devices. “It’s great that we have another option to try to work with when things might not go exactly as we planned. We spend a lot of time working on teaching language and communication. It’s nice to have another option,” she said.

She notes i-devices can make great portable reinforcers. “We can take that with us anywhere we go. So if we’re working in the community or therapy room or laundry room it’s a portable item we can take with us and work for,” she said.

Both centers are using the app Proloquo2Go. Despite of a price tag just shy of $200, they say the app is comprehensive and adaptable to each user.

“We always modify that app so that it fits the particular client. There’s a wide range of ways to set that app,” Grant said. The way it comes isn’t necessarily the best for each person, but it can be programmed to work to each user’s needs.

Kasey Philpott, speech language pathologist at Little Star Center views the i-devices as beneficial. “Most of the kids we’re introducing the devices to had limited communication abilities already. Sometimes we just don’t know what they need or want. It’s opening up so many doors for those kids,” she said.