Tablets - The new way to help people with autism to commmunicate

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How increasingly reliant we’ve become on our digital gadgets—our cell phones, iPods, laptops, Fitbits, and countless other portable innovations! On touchscreen devices, apps serve many important and convenient purposes for all of us, all at the tap or swipe of a finger. For people in the special needs community - and especially children with autism - tablets are an affordable, modern, and highly effective way to learn and improve social communication as well as build other skills in an attention-grabbing, enjoyable manner. As opposed to desktop computers or laptops, the physical aspect of tablets are more “touchable” and, therefore, more “usable” for people with autism. Considering some children with autism have upper body weakness, the tablet’s light weight and smaller size allows the child to easily carry and transport it. For children with fine motor deficits or deficits of eye-hand coordination, touch-screen technology eliminates the frustrating manipulation of the traditional mouse or finger-operated mouse pad. Further, directly touching the tablet’s screen is personal as nothing comes between the child and his or her activity on the screen. So, the touch-screen serves as an extension of the child himself or herself, making the experience more meaningful to the individual. Protective covers for tablets make them more durable, and thanks to the auto-rotation feature of the screen’s content, the child is free to use the tablet in various environments and positions. Unlike a laptop’s clamshell keyboard or a desktop’s disconnected keyboard, tablets have a built-in virtual keyboard which makes them more efficient and less bulky. If a physical keyboard is desired, most tablets offer a Bluetooth-enabled physical keyboard option. Voice-activated text on the tablet eliminates the need for typing altogether. Conversely, for those who are nonverbal and unable to speak with their voices, tablets can serve as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices for voice output. Since tablets are becoming an increasingly larger segment of the home computer market and within schools (see footnotes 1, 2), tablet technology is constantly being updated along with new features, and a vast universe of useful apps continue to be developed. Moreover, some computers are underpowered and/or sluggish with a short battery life as opposed to tablets. So, tablets are the more convenient choice for use during long periods of time such as travel or a work or school day. Multi-faceted, higher-level abstract skills like communication and language are more easily learned when broken down into more understandable, concrete parts. Children with autism gravitate toward the technology and screens of tablets because they can actually see and experience how these parts of communication and language work together. The tablet is an ideal and invaluable tool as some research has suggested that children with autism are naturally more inclined for technology and are better able to learn and imitate the communication skills they see on the screen through videos as opposed to real-life models.(see footnote 3) Children’s media is increasingly migrating from the TV to the tablet.(see footnote 4) However, using the tablet as a distraction or simply for the child to entertain himself or herself could lead the child with autism into further social isolation. Always seeking the greatest socialization possible, the most effective use of the tablet for children with autism is as an empowering tool to help them learn crucial life skills, especially communication. Parents’ choice of quality tablet apps along with their encouragement and interaction with their children equals the best learning situation. Apps that target social communication teach the child critical skills such as understanding and expressing emotions as well as asking and answering appropriate questions. Tablets are part of everyday life for many children as technology is becoming more affordable and common in both homes and schools. While nothing can or should replace basic human interpersonal activity, technology provides a unique opportunity to help people with autism learn how to communicate in a way that otherwise might not be as productive. Children with autism will be naturally motivated to consistently utilize the tablet as it is inherently rewarding due to its usability. As such, tablets are a practical, captivating way for people with autism to gain more independence to communicate. All parents, particularly parents of children with autism, are encouraged to use stimulating apps as their children will have a natural motivation and continued desire to learn from them. -KKS Learn more through these references:

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.gfk.com/news-and-events/press-room/press-releases/Pages/IT-IFA-2014-en.aspx

  2. http://thegazette.com/2012/02/17/touch-screen-tablets-help-connect-autistic-kids-with-their-families-and-world/#u46DMWdwzDB0u47g.99

  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11261466

  4. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/09/tech/innovation/autism-tablet-apps/

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