As a certified speech language pathologist using technology with children with autism for the past 12 years, I have experienced first hand the impact the iPad has had on the field. When the iPad was first released, it was quickly adopted by the special needs community as an easy to use, engaging tool. Plus, with the early creation of apps for communication, it solidified its place as a viable option for children with autism. There is much debate about the benefits of the iPad for these children, but in my experience, the use of the iPad boils down to two major categories: a therapeutic tool or a communication tool.
The Problem: The iPad as a therapeutic tool
In my own experience, I have used the iPad more frequently as a therapeutic tool in order to facilitate language and learning for children with autism. However, since the iPad is so easy to use, I would frequently get frustrated because of how fast these children were able to activate the menu and option buttons (typically in the corners). Before I had a chance to interact with them about the content, they were on to something else. Their interaction was with the iPad, not with me. Not only does this make it difficult to interact with these children in order to facilitate learning, it can actually strengthen already malformed neural pathways contributing to the original problem, not engaging with others. So, I found myself playing the "hand slapping game" as I covered up the menu and option buttons in the corners of the screen to keep them from being activated.
Apple has identified this as an issue and created "Guided Access" in iOS 6, which allows you to disable parts of the screen. Great, but not quite useful enough for therapists due to the multiple steps required to activate and deactivate its function. Watch below for a demonstration of "Guided Access".
As a result, I created and have been using a simple to use tool I call the PerseveGuard. It's an easy to use, clear plastic overlay for the iPad that restricts access to corner buttons unless you have a stylus. Watch below for a demonstration.
This has been extremely effective in gaining my client's attention and interaction. Watch below to see its effectiveness.
The PerseveGuard coupled with Guided Access has been an effective solution in using the iPad with children with autism to facilitate language and learning, making it a viable therapeutic tool. Many other therapists have been using the PerseveGuard with great success so I recently made it available to everyone at perseveguard.com
The Problem: The iPad as a communication tool
Many families of children with autism purchase an iPad and download an app for communication and hope that their child will start communicating. They soon find out that playing Angry Birds or surfing YouTube is way more motivating to the child than communicating. Not only does this waste time and money, again, it can strengthen malformed neural pathways contributing to the original problem, the inability to communicate.
The Solution: Get an evaluation by a certified speech and language pathologist who specializes in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. If you can't find one and are eager to get started, do your research. The Center for AAC and Autism is a valuable place to start (www.aacandautism.com). Not only do they have a well researched rationale and an effective approach in getting these children communicating, they also have an app called Words for Life that helps accomplish this.
Every child with autism is unique in their needs and abilities. So, before running out and buying an iPad thinking it will solve all your problems, think about the child and a specific goal in mind to determine if the iPad will help you accomplish that goal. Because the iPad is not a one size fits all, because as they say, "If you've seen one kid with autism...you've seen one kid with autism".
Brian Simms, MA CCC-SLP Bio
Brian earned his Bachelor's degree in Speech and Hearing Science from Arizona State University and his Master of Arts in Speech Language Pathology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Brian has owned and operated a private practice in Colorado as a Speech Language Pathologist, Assistive Technology Specialist. He provided augmentative communication/assistive technology services for individuals with disabilities in home, school, and community settings. Prior to owning his own business, he worked at the University of Colorado Health Science Center for two years as a Faculty Instructor/Assistive Technology Specialist and also spent two years as an SLP at an early childhood center.
Brian holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and is a member of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC). In addition, Brian is currently a member on Adam's Camp Board of Directors.