Today is World Autism Awareness Day, a day designated by the United Nations to highlight awareness of autism and the need to help improve the quality of life of children and adults who are affected by autism, so they can lead full and meaningful lives. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong condition that affects an individual’s communication, behaviour and social interaction to varying degrees.
In the United States, one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 30% higher than previous estimates, according to the CDC. According to the National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC), the best estimate of the prevalence of ASD in Canada is 1 in 94 children.
When our son was diagnosed with autism just over 11 years ago, we were told he might never talk and that we would need to help him find ways to communicate with us and those around him. We quickly came to understand that the causes of many of our son’s “behaviours” and meltdowns stemmed from his inability to communicate his needs and wants, and his frustration at not being understood by those around him.
iPads didn’t exist when we first explored different Augmentative Communication methods. The tools back then (not so very long ago) were very expensive, very basic and not very user-friendly. With the help of professional speech and language therapists, ABA therapists, teachers and EAs, we tried a variety of methods to help our son communicate with us, including the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECs) and sign language.
Although every tool we gave him to help him communicate was a step in the right direction, nothing else made as much difference as the iPad has. It was truly a game changer.
Our son had never had any interest in computers, but was immediately drawn to the iPad and its intuitiveness. It took him no time at all to learn to use it, and when we downloaded the Proloquo2Go app on it for him, he quickly figured out how to navigate the screens to find the items he wanted and use it to make his needs understood.
With this app, users can speak by tapping buttons with words or phrases (paired with pictures to make them easy for non-readers to find). There is a basic vocabulary for beginning users, and a library of 14000 symbols available. You can also add your own photos to the menus if you want.
Using Proloquo2Go on his iPad opened up a whole new world to my son. He was able to express things to us (and others) that he had never had the tools to do. Even more incredibly, it helped him learn to actually say the words he was communicating with on the iPad. Prior to starting to use the iPad, attempts at verbal speech were minimal, and when no real speech had developed by the age of 9 or 10 we had started to lose hope.
I don’t know if it was the repetition of hearing the words he pushed on the iPad spoken out loud in exactly the same way each time, or the immediate gratification he got by being understood, but something about using the iPad gave him the motivation and the confidence to begin to try to speak, and he’s never looked back.
Our experience is backed up by a recent study that found minimally verbal children on the spectrum who had access to an iPad doubled the amount of words in their vocabulary, and the earlier the children get their hands on an iPad, the better. (UCLA, Communication Interventions for Minimally Verbal Children with Autism).
Although it may seem like longer, iPads have only been around for 5 years. In a relatively short period of time, they have quickly become a key communication tool for many children and families with autism, like mine.
With more than 725,000 native iPad apps available, and 1.4 million apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, there are many wonderful ways people of all abilities can use iOS devices. You can learn about iOS devices and accessibility features here.
There are thousands of apps for autism that have been developed, and more are being developed every day. It is amazing how much technology has helped many individuals with autism. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Here are some helpful iPad apps for individuals with autism:
About Kathy Sima
Kathy is a blogger and freelance writer and mom of two teens who gave up her career as a financial advisor when her son was diagnosed with autism at age 3. When it comes to parenting, Kathy truly believes there is strength in numbers and knows that sharing stories and strategies with other parents has helped keep her sane (so far!)