While on a recent trip to California visiting schools I was lucky enough to see a number of 1:1 iPod Touch classrooms. I've had an iPod Touch myself for a few years, and more recently an iPhone, but it wasn't until I saw these devices being used in classrooms that I saw the potential for use with special needs children. In particular I was thinking of my own 10 year old son Harry who has autism who at this stage was not allowed to touch my iPhone!
The timing of my Californian trip was perfect. As soon as I returned I persuaded my husband and started saving for Harry's own iPod Touch in time for his 10th birthday in July. An iPad would have been even better but was out of our price range unfortunately! In preparation for the big day I spent many hours trawling the iTunes Apps store looking for suitable applications to engage Harry in different areas including literacy, numeracy, creativity, images/video, general gaming etc. The big day came and the iPod Touch was a huge hit and we continue to add to his list of apps as his needs and interests change. He's already asking when he can take his iPod to school to use ...
So it was huge interest that I read this post on BlogHer recently. This mother has a son with autism and has seen enormous improvements in his development since he started using an iPad. Many of the apps Shannon mentions are not intended specifically for children with autism but they are certainly autism friendly. The app I found most interesting of all was Stories2Learn. Social stories are widely used by children with autism as they find it easier to learn visually and the stories can help with upcoming events and change in routines such as transitions to school, school trips, holidays etc. When Harry was younger I spent literally hundreds of hours taking photos, inserting into Publisher templates, adding text, printing them out in colour, laminating each page and binding it all together. It was expensive and time consuming. With apps like Stories2Learn social stories become not only free to make but also a much more powerful learning tool as you can add audio (and with other apps video). And instead of just one copy of the book you can have multiple copies at home, at school, in the car or anywhere! Shannon goes on to provide a long list of other applications to assist in just about any area of autism you can think of from scheduling (very important for kids on the spectrum to know what to expect step by step) through to symbols and text-talk apps to help with communication difficulties.
While iPads are obviously not the answer to all the difficulties that come with autism I can see a real potential for their use at home and school. And with the growing number of ASD kids in our schools today this is surely something we need to be incorporating into our strategic plans and budgets?