Got Autism? Get an iPad!

ipadIt was none other than Steve Jobs, iconic CEO of Apple Computers who called the iPad a magical device. Mr. Jobs was likely referring to the technological marvels of the new tablet computing device his company was releasing. Like many such advances in technology, in a child’s hands the iPad has become babysitter, learning tool, and for some, drool catcher. But is it possible this sleek, modern, super futuristic computer is a possible cure for autism in children?

Setting aside the politics swirling around potential causes for autism, as well as the various definitions for what is considered autistic, current estimates have just over 1% of children in the United States diagnosed with autistic tendencies. This amounts to quite a few children with shortened attention spans, decreasing abilities to communicate or even perform basic living functions on their own.

The more extreme cases of children with autism see those afflicted mired in lives of frustration often culminating in violence. Sometimes extreme violent actions to themselves and the loved ones around them.

Millions of dollars goes towards research and development in the field of childhood autism every year. Knowing what truly causes autism in children is clearly important, as is understanding how to cure the disease. Perhaps as pressing to those parents who may have one or more offspring afflicted with autism is effectively managing their kids until the day comes when the cure is available.

As with most aspect of the unknown, a wide variety and depth of speculative solutions are constantly being created (and just as readily being discarded). The aggressive nature of the violent outbursts which occur in an afflicted child can be as much or more than many parents are able to handle at a given time. Violent and abusive responses are not uncommon to flustered and frustrated parents. Relief, usually coming in the form of the child’s complete exhaustion, tends to be the only relief to appear on the weary parent’s horizon.

Application developers, along with the infrastructure Apple has created with its App Store have provided iPad owners with virtually unlimited numbers of software programs. Anything which one could do on a traditional computer or laptop is easily done within the confines of the iPad’s systems.

By internalizing the keyboard, removing the need for a mouse (pointing device), and building the CPU and other components in the thin space beneath the touch screen, the iPad is a complete, powerful system. One which takes up very little space and is relatively light. These slim, robust computers are easily held and manipulated in even the hands of small children.

And kids tend to figure out technology fast. Even faster than adults with 12:00 still flashing on their VCR. But a kid who is autistic? Is it really possible they, too, are benefiting from all those futuristic bells and whistles?

Apparently they are.

Was the first interaction between autistic child and iPad accidental? Did a distracted parent forget his sleek, new computer was within reach of the violent, often temperamental child? Or was it that same frustration which prompted the parent to use any means necessary to appease the demands of their child?

Whatever the answer, the facts are clear. Children with diminished capacity to process or even control the incoming flow of information in the world around them are doing just that with the aid of the iPad. More precisely, they are able to learn and deal with much more of their environment as a direct result of some ingenuous applications which have been developed for the iPad platform.

The hardware capabilities built into the iPad, like the video and audio recording as well as its still camera are allowing parents to teach their challenging children with real world examples. Images and sounds taken from the immediate surroundings the autistic child is most familiar. And most comfortable with.

Once the cost of the iPad is overcome, applications are available from $5 upwards to a couple of hundred dollars. Perhaps one of the most interesting intangibles of all, however? iPad’s are cool. Kids with iPads stick out, but in a good way. The last thing an autistic child needs is more negative attention.

This post was written by guest author Joshua Hitch. Joshua became interested in ways to further the learning of children with disabilities after working closely with disability denial lawyers to learn what some of these children struggle with.

photo by: Ed Yourdon