My kids love playing with my iPhone. To them, it’s the ultimate distraction on a long car ride, or when we’re bored in a doctor’s waiting room.
For some children with autism though, the iPod touch and it’s bigger cousin the iPad are life-changing. One teacher working with severely autistic children calls the iPod a “magic wand”. A mother with a non-verbal autistic daughter calls hers a “godsend”. What makes these devices so great for autistic children?
They allow kids with limited verbal skills to think and communicate easily using pictures. Transitions from one activity to another, or one space to another, often make autistic children very anxious. Having an iPod show them in pictures what is happening now, and what will happen next, eases these transitions.
Children can also use them communicate what they want. One mom described the hit or miss process of going shopping with her autistic daughter. The girl would indicate that she wanted to go shopping, but couldn’t say where. They’d drive from store to store in frustration. Now she has an iPod app that shows pictures of her daughter’s favorite destinations, and she can use the touchscreen to show her mom which one she wants before they leave the house.
There’s also the cool factor. Children with autism spectrum disorders are no more immune than the rest of us to the appeal of blinky lights and high-tech toys. In fact, many kids with ASD find computers easier to interact with than people.
The devices are also relatively inexpensive. The iPad starts at $500, which is steep for a toy. But it’s half the cost of a medical device designed to assist autistic children with non-verbal communication. The iPod is even more affordable. Apps to assist communication are free or very cheap, and there are plenty of games and movies available to entertain kids, too. It works out to a bargain for families who need this kind of bridge for their kids to communicate.
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