iPads and Autism: My Experience and App Recommendations for Teaching Kids with Developmental Differences

By Derek May on September 25, 2012   /   Angry Birds apps for disabilities Aspergers aspergers Autism autism Conversation Builder Developmental Differences Developmental Disabilities Easy Board EdApps EdTech Education Apps elearning iBallz iPad iPadEd Language Forest mlearning Nancy Barth Nancy Barth Tutoring Picture AAC Pocket Lexi Question Builder Scrabble Sosh Sound Literacy Sound Note SoundNote Stories2Learn Storyist Technology in Education The Magic Thief Tozzle Wood Puzzle    /   0 Comments

When my kids gave me an iPad for Christmas in 2010, I was really jazzed about my new toy.  I could take photos and videos, play music and Angry Birds. My grandson could use it for watching videos and playing simple learning games.  I could use it to teach my nephew (now 22), who has autism, how to play Scrabble.

At the time, I had no idea what a wonderful tool it would be for teaching and learning for kids with Autism/Asperger’s and similar developmental differences.  After just a few weeks, though, I started reading blog posts by parents of kids on the spectrum describing the amazing stuff happening as their kids started using iPads. Yes, they were learning new skills, but even more surprising, they were becoming more engaged with their parents and siblings.  Teachers were noticing the same things.

One teacher friend of mine uses the iPad and the app Sound Literacy to work on word-building with her students. Before, they would get frustrated trying to move small tiles around to make words.  With Sound Literacy, the tiles stayed in place and they could focus on spelling rather than picking up dropped tiles.  For younger children, apps like Tozzle and Wood Puzzle allow them to develop visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills while minimizing the need for fine motor expertise. No more spilled puzzles all over the floor! 

Speech, language, and social skills are important areas to work on for kids on the autism spectrum.  This is one place where the iPad really shines.  Apps such as Conversation Builder and Question Builder provide opportunities for the back-and-forth communication that is so important.  With Pocket Lexi and Language Forest, specific language needs can be targeted.

One of the most significant advances is the use of communication boards for those who are nonverbal.  I used to create communication books and social stories for my students. Having unending possibilities at your fingertips with the iPad is just an incredible improvement.  Most of these apps can be customized. Stories2Learn helps the parent or teacher create child-specific social stories, including using your own pictures and recording your own words. Others, such as Easy Board and Picture AAC use predetermined picture cards to create communication boards. Sosh is an amazing app for older teens and young adults that helps develop coping skills in different situations (and much more).

Over the course of several months, my nephew progressed from needing help with choosing every word in Scrabble to beating me in some games.  In addition to improving his spelling, he started using the dictionary.com app to find out the meanings of words I played.  I noticed him using some of those words in texts that he sent me.

When he wanted to tell me the stories he had locked in his head, I discovered apps like Sound Note and Storyist (more on that in a future post).  He had been struggling for months to master math facts, particularly division.  Operation Math came out and he took off.  He loved the spy mission theme, the subtle word plays, and winning badges.  He actually passed eight levels of division without any help from me.

Being able to read books on the iPad is another advantage.  As we progressed through one, The Magic Thief, he was able to use the highlight feature to mark similes and metaphors (of which there are an abundance in this series!).   If we wanted to, he could have also used the note-taking feature to type short comments about what he was reading.  I had a couple of Walter Mitty stories in a book, and after reading those, he used my iPad to find an animated video of one.  We could have used the computer, but the iPad was handier!

From the ABCs to spelling, from pointing to pictures to holding conversations, from reading books to writing them, the iPad is turning out to be “all that jazz” and more for kids on the autism spectrum, their families, and their teachers.  It certainly went beyond my wildest dreams back on that Christmas day in 2010. 

Nancy Barth is a retired special education teacher.  She tutors children and adults with autism and dyslexia in the Fresno area and also remotely via Skype. To learn more and join the discussion, visit her blog where you can find posts about iPad apps, reading, writing, handwriting, math, processing disorders, social skills, organizational skills and more.

Be the first to know about new offerings, specials, and other fun stuff: Sign up for “The Spark” on her blog and you’ll get a complimentary copy of the eBook "The Wonderful World of Apps for Educators of All Levels."

Many thanks to Nancy for guest posting!  Keep in touch with iBallz for more tips on tablet education - Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter

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