Are iPods and iPads Good for Autistic Children?

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Visual. As a parent of a young autistic child I hear that term a lot. Visual schedule. Picture Exchange Communication System (OK, not using the word “visual”, but related) Autistics are visual learners.

I’ve had this piece as a draft for some time. Then I saw a recent post by Shannon Des Roches Rosa entitled The iPad: a Near-Miracle for My Son With Autism. I had to finish this.

Consider computers. Computers started as language based—text entry and output—devices. Anyone remember punch cards? Teletype terminals? The story goes that Steve Jobs went to Xerox’s research center (Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC) and was shown three things: object oriented programing, networking and the graphical user interface and the mouse. All of those were to be major advancements and, of those, he fixated on the graphical user interface.

I’ve written in the past about the program Proloquo2Go in the past in a post Insurance bureaucracies slow to catch up on new AAC devices, as well as a recent attempt by a special education teacher who was trying to win a grant to obtain iPod touch’s and Proloquo2Go. I first heard about this AAC solution from a post on by Dora Raymaker.

Here is a video discussing Proloquo2Go.


Beyond just AAC functionality, the iPod/iPhone/iPad user interface has some distinct advantages. It is not text-based. Doesn’t take a keyboard. Sure, some functionality and some content require text, but much can be accomplished without it. Want to watch a video? No need to set up a DVD player. No need to navigate some “on-demand” menu.

As Shannon points out, the iPad is not just a big iPod touch. She puts it quite well:

After Leo spent five minutes with his iPad, I realized that any assumptions I had about it being merely a bigger or a more breakable iPod touch were idiotic. It’s a tough little device. And for Leo, the larger scale of the iPad makes everything he wants to interact with just the right size, and therefore totally accessible. He may have a hard time writing on paper or typing on a computer keyboard, but he is a world-class iPad swiper and tapper, and his excellent visual memory means he can use that swiping and tapping to navigate between apps and videos with precision.

The portability of the iPod Touch (and the lower cost) makes it very portable. Visual schedules can be made on-the-fly without need for huge icon books. Portable music and videos can be excellent for regulation, or just plain entertainment! As Shannon points out in her piece, there are a lot of apps and games which are very accessible.

And, they are cool.

I am quite taken with the iPad/iPod technology where I’ve seen it in action. They are expensive (the iPad starts at $500), and look oh-so-fragile. But they are really much more than toys.