Tablets may improve autistic communication

  • 02/01/2013

New research is being done into how tablets such as iPads can help children living with autism.

Some parents of autistic children say they've noticed remarkable changes in their behaviour and communication skills with the devices.

Six-year-old Ciaran Lewis is severely autistic. He doesn't speak, has trouble getting dressed and needs help going to the bathroom. But he works an iPad like it's second nature.

Ciaran's father, Wayne, began developing the app Communicate Easy after watching his son struggle with expressing his wants and needs

“I thought I could make something that he would get lots of use out of and I might actually be able to start making some good progress with him,” says Mr Lewis.

And they have been making progress. Ciaran can now tell his father what he wants to do simply by pointing at pictures on the screen. Routines can also be set out on the iPad using pictures and sounds, making everyday tasks easier to perform. Without the iPad, a simple routine such as going to the bathroom can result in a tantrum.

The use of tablets in this way is fairly new, but researchers from Wellington's Victoria University have been studying its effectiveness. They used an app that allowed children to make requests by tapping an icon on the screen.

While the research is not yet complete, they've noticed most children stopped engaging in inappropriate forms of communication and interaction, such as screaming or grabbing things, when they learned to use the iPad to make socially appropriate requests.

Autism New Zealand chief executive Alison Molloy has been watching the study closely. Her Hamilton branch has been trialling tablets with positive results.

“We find that it is working really, really well with those individuals that are using them,” says Ms Molloy. “The apps help them focus on what needs to be done in a way that enables them to just get through without being too stressed and having what we'd call a meltdown.”

Ms Molloy hopes to make iPads available in more branches once there are more results from testing. But Mr Lewis is convinced it works and hopes Communicate Easy will help his son say his first words.

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source: newshub archive