Swiping away to better learning and communication

Staff Writer
For many children, an iPad can be a fun toy to play with. For children with autism, though, it’s a way to learn academics and even to communicate.
There are many iPad applications designed to help children with autism, some helping them with academic skills like math and counting while others help with communication.
Julie Vanderhoff, of Jenera, said her daughter’s iPad has helped her with her education. Katie, 10, has autism.
“She’s learned to count,” Vanderhoff said.
Katie uses iPad applications to count to 100 and can also trace letters.
Susan Pneuman, founder of the Center for Autism and Dyslexia, where Katie attends classes, said before Katie got the iPad teachers would use “manipulatives” like cards and tiles to help her count. But it was harder to keep her motivated and the iPad is an improvement, she said. Katie had previously been able to count to 20, but not consistently. Within a week of using the iPad she had mastered counting to 100.
“We saw a very swift turn of events with her learning,” Pneuman said.
The center recently received a $5,134 donation from the Kiwanis Club of Findlay to enable it to buy more iPads for student use. The Kiwanis’ new project committee raised the money through a basket raffle and a December wine tasting.
Pneuman spoke briefly at a recent Kiwanis meeting about the Center for Autism and Dyslexia, a charter school with 60 students in Findlay and 62 in Lima.
Pneuman said Katie, like many autistic children, is “very visual” and the images on the iPad help her to learn.
Vanderhoff said Katie particularly likes counting games. The game offers her a reward if she correctly answers the questions.
“She likes to use it (the iPad) to do letters,” she said, adding that Katie traces the letters with her fingers.
And the iPad is “calming and soothing” and Katie can interact with it if she is upset, Vanderhoff said.
Pneuman has also seen success with an app known as Proloquo2Go, which allows children with autism to communicate.
Words are accompanied by images and a child can touch the phrase such as “I love you” or “I am _ years old”. As students become adept they can create sentences by dragging words onto the screen. The words that come with the app include many household tasks such as “flush toilet” or “shower” as well as foods so a child could make the iPad say, for example, “I want a banana.”
Every child with autism is different and some learn to speak while others never do, Pneuman said. She said the iPads can help both groups. For children who cannot speak, they do still understand language and “These are their words,” she said of the words in Proloquo2Go. For other students, “this may be a bridge to verbal communication.”
Pneuman said the technology has advanced greatly in the last four or five years. The same sort of communication could be done with laminated pictures that children could point to but the iPad has changed the way they communicate, she said.
Pneuman said there are “hundreds of thousands” of applications for children. They tend to be “very visual” which helps motivate students, she said. One app aimed at middle school students offers a visual demonstration of an algebra equation. Another might allow students to learn the periodic table of the elements.
There are also apps that offer education about social events. For example, if a parent is preparing to take his or her child to the dentist, they can use the iPad application to educate the child about what to expect, Pneuman said.
In addition to providing education, the iPads can also serve as a kind of reward for students, which provides reinforcement for behavior.
Pneuman said there is “a lot of excitement” when families first get an iPad. Pneuman said staff have learned through “trial and error” that it is specifically iPads, not other tablet computers, that have the most effective applications available to help children with autism.
One challenge is learning to manage the use of the iPad because children “can be overstimulated,” Pneuman said.
Of the iPads, Pneuman said the Kiwanis Club “recognized right away how important this was” to the center. The club’s funding allowed the school to purchase 20 more iPads. The goal is to eventually have one for each student.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs



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