5 Reasons Why the iPad is An Amazing Device for Students on the Autism Spectrum
The iPad is revolutionizing industries across the world. Hospitals are using iPads to increase patient interaction by bringing x-rays and other vital information bedside. Service companies are outfitting their service technicians with iPads to evaluate the safety and performance of elevators and escalators and restaurants are adopting iPads to enhance the experience of diners and chefs. But what about the iPad and autism? The characteristics of individuals that are on the autism spectrum and the functionally of the iPad are perfectly matched to unlock potential in ways we have never seen.
Here are five reasons why the iPad and autism are the perfect pair.
It is already well established through research that technology is playing a major role in the education of individuals with autism. Individuals with autism are drawn to technology for various reasons: the predictability, the ability to customize experiences, and the immersive visual and cognitive experience. The iPad adds an element that is difficult to achieve in traditional computers: interactivity. Many individuals with autism learn best when they are actively engaging with their lessons, rather than passively listening to a lecture or watching a video. A traditional computer presents challenges with having to use a mouse as a proxy to engagement, especially for those with fine motor and processing challenges. The iPad removes those barriers and allows for direct engagement. Users can touch, move, and interact with their learning environment. This makes education less abstract and more meaningful for individuals with autism.
The iPad and autism are perfect together because unlike traditional technology, the tablet is easily transportable. Why is this important for autism? First off, many individuals with autism need supports in different environments. A student at school may need reminders about social expectations in his or her classroom, but also in art, gym, and recess. A child at home may have a social story to help them eat dinner appropriately in the kitchen, and another one for going to sleep in their bedroom. The iPad allows individuals with ASD to have their critical supports available wherever they are. Within seconds an entire library of supports is accessible independent of location.
The other benefit of having a portable device is generalization. Many individuals with ASD can have a difficult time transferring skills between settings. For example, they may learn how to sing a song with a parent at home, but then not be able to replicate the skill at school in a new place with new people. The iPad makes it extremely easy to generalize skills between environments. An app that teaches any skill can follow an individual wherever they go and help teach skills anywhere.
3) Reduced Distractibility
Technology has the power to drastically increase productivity, but it can also divert attention from important tasks. A study from a few years ago demonstrated that traditional laptops in some classrooms were more distracting than helpful. Especially when we consider the iPad and individuals on the spectrum, attention and focus are critical. A tablet has some of the same potential for distraction, but also has some advantages over other types of technology. Unlike desktop computers, iPads can be easily removed from the learning environment when they are not needed and included in instruction when they make sense. Also, tools like Guided Access make it easy to ensure individuals with ASD are only engaging with apps that are part of the lesson plan.
4) Organization and Independence
The iPad and autism are a great match because of the intuitive simplicity of the system. You can open an app by one simple touch of the icon. Drag an app into a folder of similar apps to create organized folders. The home button allows you to get back to familiar screen with access to all your apps.
All of these features make the device accessible to those that may not have the skills to navigate traditional desktop and laptop computers. You can operate an iPad without knowing how to type or use a mouse. You can find and install an app without having to navigate websites or worry about performance and display issues. The iPad allows for greater control and independence for individuals with ASD. In this respect, the iPad is empowering device for individuals with autism to learn, play, and create.
5) The App Store
The magic and power of the iPad is realized with the 1.5 million apps on the App Store. There are categories of apps that are not designed specifically for ASD, but can directly support individuals with autism. There are thousands of apps to help with executive functioning (planning, memory, and execution), one of the common challenges in many individuals with autism. Not to mention how calendars, checklists, and reminder apps can all play an important role in managing daily activities.
There are also many apps that support Independent and daily living skills. MINT is an app which uses visual charts and graphs, a strength for individuals with autism, to help manage and understand personal finance. AnyList helps you manage grocery shopping and meal planning. There are even apps like this from Disney that help you know how long to brush your teeth!
In addition to these mainstream apps that can be beneficial for individuals with autism, there are thousands of apps specifically targeted to the unique learning needs of those with autism. There are apps to help create social stories, modulate behavior, keep data, and a curriculum that can teach academic and social skills.
What do you love about the iPad and autism, and what could be better? We’d love to hear from you!
Originally posted on the Infiniteach Blog by Christopher Flint who was an autism educator and trainer for over 20 years.