Can the iPad Be a Learning Tool for Kids With Autism?

Since the iPad's release in April of 2010, the device has found its way into both homes and classrooms. It's amazing to see the number of educational apps available on the market. Some mix games with reading, while others focus strictly on promoting literacy. It seems that most all children love the ability to interact with mobile devices, but can these devices be a learning tool particularly well suited for kids with autism? For many apps, the answer is yes.

During Apple's March 2 special event announcing the iPad 2, Steve Jobs introduced a video featuring a 10-year-old boy with autism, Leo, using the iPad. One of Leo's favorite apps is Dr. Seuss's ABC. His mom, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, considers the iPad a transformative tool for apps for kids with special needs. A writer and autism advocate, Rosa explains that apps can support her son's reading skills in multiple visual contexts.

"Dr. Seuss's ABC app is the very best app I've found for reinforcing Leo's sight reading skills," writes Rosa on her blog, Squidalicious. She adds that her son happily reads the interactive book app to himself by tapping on each highlighted word and word/picture association in sequence.

In an article for Moms With Apps, Rosa notes the characteristics of great apps for kids with autism: ones that are fun; have error-free learning; are simple to use with a single-function focus; have a visually distinctive interface; feature a tempo change option; and include flexible content management.

Gary James from Apps for Children with Special Needs, agrees that the iPad has had a tremendous impact on the lives of kids with autism.

"Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) particularly need to be taught in a way where they can literally touch the words and watch what the characters do when under their control," says James. "Apps on an iPad provide a huge benefit, allowing a match to be made between the pace of reading and interacting that works for an ASD child's unique style and needs."

According to Michel Kripalani of Oceanhouse Media, the Dr. Seuss book apps are developed with teaching kids how to read in mind. Words zoom up and are spoken when pictures are touched. Individual words are highlighted and are read aloud when tapped. Kripalani has seen first hand the impact that apps can have on youngsters by witnessing how much pleasure his own children get out of the apps. "As an innovator in children's literacy, we like to think that Dr. Seuss himself would have enjoyed seeing his stories used in this new format," says Kripalani.

With the recent release of the iPad 2, it's wonderful to see the use of these mobile devices in the "Post-PC" world as educational tools. Once a parent or teacher owns a tablet, it seems that the apps themselves are a fraction of the cost of traditional learning tools. This should improve accessibility tremendously. What will the release of the iPad 2 mean in terms of helping children with autism? Hopefully, even more apps will be released centered on enhancing reading skills, encouraging kids to learn and have fun at the same time.

One thing's for certain. Rosa says Leo is going to be a very happy boy once the Mr. Brown Can Moo app is available.

(Watch Leo reading Dr. Seuss's ABC app on Rosa's blog, Squidalicious.)