Communication devices that before were cumbersome to use and cost several thousand dollars a pop have now been reduced to a unit as small as the iPad, and apps that cost between a dollar and in some cases a couple hundred dollars, depending on the complexity and program. That's a huge advantage over the previous technology.
The iPad Gives Nonverbal Kids a Voice
There are people with autism, both kids and adults, who would not be able to speak a word or communicate with anyone at all if not for something called AAC - augmentative and alternative communication. Simply put, AAC means any device that gives a person who could otherwise not speak a voice. This can range between low tech devices that allow you to point at a picture, to facilitated communication which mostly includes supported typing on a keyboard with voice output, to things like the iPad.
These devices allow people with autism to communicate with the world around them, thus relieving a huge amount of frustration that would come otherwise from having to be silent.
Why the iPad?
So what makes the iPad so much better for autism in children, particularly nonverbal autistic kids? There are several reasons why this is proving to be such a great augmentative/alternative communication method.
1. The Variety of Programs (Apps)
There are programs you can download onto your iPad called apps. There are thousands upon thousands of apps out there, for all different purposes. Just within the autism world, there are thousands of apps. The purpose of many of these apps is to help nonverbal kids speak. A lot of them do it with pictures and symbols that you can load onto the program.
The child sees a picture of something he wants, and points to it. When pushed, the touchpad says the word out loud. Using simple finger movements, the child can also arrange several symbols or pictures into a sentence. "I want to play," or "I want an apple," or "I'm tired." The iPad says this out loud and allows the user to communicate their needs and desires.
2. The Ease of Use
When working with autism in children, you will often see a lot of fine motor problems. It is hard for kids to control exactly where their fingers go, or to do things that require a lot of fine motor control. Even devices like the iPod Touch are more difficult to use for a child with autism, because they require more motor control.
But the iPad has a big screen, and all that is requires is very broad pointing and swiping. It is engaging, with all the animations, sounds and games, so it holds the user's attention.
You touch it, and something happens - it can't get much simpler than that. This immediate cause and effect is much more likely to grab and hold the attention of kids with autism than other devices. Also, many kids with autism have good visual memory, and this makes navigating through the screens relatively easy for them after a few tries.
3. The Educational Value
There are so many different kinds of apps you can download, that anything you can conceive of is there. Some apps teach kids with autism spelling, but do so in such a fun and engaging way that the kids think they are just playing -- so they keep doing it. There are programs that can teach a variety of different skills, in many different academic areas.
4. The Social Value
You can also use the iPad to create customized social stories for every possible situation. If you're going out to the store, you can create an animated social story with personal pictures and your own voice saying and showing exactly what will happen during this process. "Jonah will put on his shows. Jonah will get into the car and not fight with his brother. Jonah will walk down the aisles of the grocery store... " You can say or show whatever you want, and your child can look at it as many times as they want.
This makes them feel more comfortable and prepared about going out in the world, and makes the outing go much more easily for you. It makes the effects of autism in children easier on you and your family's life.
Another nice thing about iPads is they blend in. As the child gets older, they start worrying about blending in more. The iPad doesn't mark them as having a disability, because it is something that many people have.
For a list of websites that review autism related iPad apps, you can see this list of autism apps that the New York Times put together.
The iPad is not the only AAC device out there, but it is the one that best blends all the past and future technologies together. Previous devices where you typed something in and had voice output cost thousands of dollars. The iPad cost a few hundred dollars. (And everyone in the family can use it.) Therefore, for anyone working with autism in children, finding some sort of augmentative alternative communication device, like the iPad, for them is highly recommended.