iPad May Help Communication for Autistic Children


Parents of children suffering from autism are turning to the iPad to help their kids. Experts don’t know what causes autism, but parents of autistic children know too well how hard it is to reach through the disease and communicate with them. Help in making contact has come in an unexpected form: the Apple iPad (s aapl).

Blogger Shannon Rosa handed an iPad won in a raffle to her 9-year old autistic son and was amazed to watch him interact with the device with little training. He immediately became one with the iPad and spent lots of time with educational programs — spelling, counting and other learning tools.

Rosa writes for BlogHer, and immediately wrote about the amazing progress her son has shown since the iPad hit his hands. This touched off an interest in communities of parents with autistic children, and experts are now using the iPad with many such kids.

The situation with Rosa’s child is not unusual, it turns out. Many kids are instantly taking to the iPad, spending lots of time using the tablet to focus on the task at hand. It is hard to get the attention of many autistic children, and parents are impressed with how well their kids can focus while using the iPad.

Rosa’s reaction to the introduction of the iPad to help her son says it best — “I don’t usually dabble in miracle-speak,” she says, “but I may erect a tiny altar to Steve Jobs in the corner of our living room.”

It is wonderful when technology can make a big difference in difficult situations like these parents face every day. It points out that surfing the web on the iPad is not really all that important. That $5 raffle ticket may be the best investment Rosa ever made.

Examples like these put technology into the proper perspective. I asked a deaf friend of mine which technology has impacted her world and without hesitation she told me that text messaging on cell phones has improved her life immensely. She and her husband are deaf, while their children are not, and text messaging has made it possible to communicate with the kids easily, when they are not in the same place. It’s great when technology unexpectedly makes a major impact on folks.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?


Joe Cox

In November, “Alex” is comming to Apple. Alex is the autistic son of the creator of the ap. The ap allows a two way communication between the instructor and the child. The ap requires two ipads, one for the child and one for the teacher. It uses methods similar to TEACH and ABA. Its the future of communication and behavior therapy. Apple are also going to come out with ipads that have cameras which add even more ability to this ap. I would say that MOST children and people on the spectrum will benefit from this application more than any other therapy on the planet.


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Thanks for the info. I just recently came across the idea of using the iPad for kids with special needs – thanks to my nephew’s therapist. Glad to hear that it really does make a difference!


I am so eager to hear specifics about how the iPad helps. My husband and I have marveled at how our son, 13 with the working expressive vocabulary of a two-year-old, can navigate YouTube and use a variety of search engines to explore the web. I agree with the person who brought up the point about autistic kids retreating into technology, but we can’t engage Jack all the time, so at least we know he is engaging critical thinking when he does get computer time. I don’t own an iPad but am an Apple fan– I’d love an example or two of how this helps.


Thanks for writing about Leo’s success – the iPad really has been transformative for him. Just yesterday we were able to lounge at Isotope, our favorite SF comic book store, because Leo was happy to play on his iPad while we browsed, chatted, and read. We’ve never been able to linger at Isotope before, not once.

I would like to clarify that, while Leo and our family have and continue to face challenges due to his autism, we do not consider him to “suffer.” He’s a happy boy, and we work very hard to maintain, and help others achieve, positive attitudes despite our complicated lives. Community instrumental, though – it would be much more difficult for us to parent a child with special needs without our friends and role models:

Also, DB, Dunedin media has a basic but free app for recognizing emotions and facial expressions:

Thanks again. I love hearing about other folks’ successes.


Of course Autistic kids do well with the ipad, just as they do well with computers, because it allows them to retreat into the tech world and not have to focus on people, which by the way is their biggest problem. I have an Autistic son who spends too much time with technology instead of people. While the ipad may be a useful tool to teach academic skills, it won’t be worthwhile unless it can teach autistic kids about nonverbal (body language, facial expressions etc) communication. Perhaps they can make an app for that?

Joe Cox

They have my friend. In November, “Alex” is comming to apple. Alex is the autistic son of the creator of the ap. The ap allows a two way communication between the instructor and the child. The ap requires two ipads, one for the child and one for the teacher. It uses methods similar to TEACH and ABA. Its the future of communication and behavior therapy. Ipad will are also going to come out with ipads that have cameras. Brace yourself, the 21st century break out autism treatment has been developed.

Steve Bodi

i thought your comment was very well put. I have a son that is autistic, ad he loves playing wII. but I wish he would communicate with us more. He is so smart he reads everything , but wont talk to us. He is 4 yrs old


But what about a Microsoft Slate with Windows 7??????? Steve Ballmer is getting sweaty again.

Erin V.

My 14 year old son uses his iTouch to keep track of his calorie intake daily and makes him more aware of different foods. He does not like but a few certain foods but as he grows he needs more variety – he won’t listen to me but within a week of using the iTouch for this purpose is really paying attention. Now all we need is an application that will help him monitor his mood ~ let me know if you know of one.


Technology is a wonderful thing! My son has Cerebral Palsy, is deaf and has Autism. We have been training him on a laptop computer which has opened up so many windows to his world. I am excited for other parents to have a more economical option. The flip side is that there will of course be the same issues with finding people with adequate training to work with the child. Just because the technology is there doesn’t mean the child can access it. Although, as with my son, kids on the spectrum often seem to have an instinct with computers. There still needs to be the opportunity to explore the device and someone with knowledge to teach them the apps.

Bob Perdriau

Another great Apple benefit is iChat. Our son and his wife are deaf and live 700 miles away. The ability to use ASL and read lips over iChat is amazing and much better than using a special telephone operator. We have a grandson studying ASL (not deaf) and he gets help from our son who knows it well remotely via iChat.

Note that one of Apples iPhone ads for FaceTime features a deaf couple.

Kevin White

One of my college roommates had a brother with severe cerebral palsy, and he had some sort of touch screen communications tablet that had all sorts of preprogrammed phrases and whatnot in it.

It apparently cost well over $10,000USD.

When the iPad came out, I thought, “Gee, this thing is going to obsolete a lot of special-purpose tablet-like hardware…” and I guess I was right…

Lawerence Jordan

Yes, as the father of an autistic son, I have found that new technologies like the iPod, iPod Touch and iPad have the potential to transform the lives of people and families challenged by this spectrum of disabilities. Although severely affected by autism, our child took to the computer (both Mac and PC) from a very early age.

Thanks very much for getting the word out there. The possibility to improve peoples lives is enormous.

James Kendrick

Looks like my original title was changed somewhere in the editing process to the current, complete with typo. It’s now been fixed, thanks.


iPad can bridge all sorts of chasms. Great to see it working with children. It can also bridge language barriers with Jibbigo translation.

Heidi lavoie

My son goes to a school for students with autism. The school is currently do a trial with a student to use as a speech generating device (there’s an app for that) I am anxiously awaiting the outcome, this is a much more versatile and affordable option for those with autism.

Lesley Rothschild

Hi, I am the mother of a beautiful 8 year old, non verbal autistic child. I have been reading much in the news about how the ipad may help our non verbal autistic child. Sadly, I am unemployed and we do not have funding to purchase an ipad. Do you have a program that offers funding for autistic children? f yes, kindly add us on to your waiting list for such. Thank you.


Thanks James for wonderful news for this morning. Made me smile and whether I like Apple or not, God is working amongst others in mysterious ways. I wish all the health and happiness to everyone.

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