(February 2011) As a general rule, children with autism fare better with visual stimulation than they do with auditory information—and that’s where tools such as the iPad can help, says Fred Volkmar, MD, director of the Yale Child Study Center.
Dr. Volkmar commented on iPad use for a story about a nonprofit called Stamford Education 4 Autism purchasing iPads for children in an autism spectrum disorders program. The story was published in the Stamford Advocate and Education Week.
“The nice thing is that the iPad is high-tech, but it's relatively low-cost,” Dr. Volkmar said in the interview. “Some of the devices that have been out there to help children can cost $4,000 to $5,000, and if you're dealing with a person who has trouble with impulse control and anger, they can be throwing stuff across the room.” The iPad starts at about $500.
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in 110 American children have one of these disorders.
Dr. Volkmar addressed the importance of visual stimulation to help autistic children with communications and organization in his book, “A Practical Guide to Autism: What Every Parent, Family Member, and Teacher Needs to Know” published in 2009 by John Wiley and Sons Inc.
“The idea of visual stimulation builds upon a whole body of work on autism that didn’t originally use the iPad, but looked at other not so high-tech devices that do similar things,” he says. Autistic children have an interest in visual images that "frequently starts with an interest in things like signs or hood ornaments on cars, but often extends into letters and numbers,” he says. While other children may enjoy building with blocks, autistic children are often fascinated with letters and pictures on the sides of the blocks.
Devices such as the iPad provide this kind of visual stimulation with the added benefit of customization: parents can make an iPad personal by putting in alarms or adding the child's picture.
But Dr. Volkmar adds he is not so much interested in the iPad as he is in using whatever visual means are available to help children communicate. That can be as simple as putting up a visual schedule with pictures of daily activities on the refrigerator and turning over each picture when an activity is done. “You basically want to do whatever you can to get the child be more organized and communicative,” he says.