iPads & Autism Workshop in a Can

Here's the outline from the three hour Morgan Autism Center iPads & Autism workshop I gave today. I went much more in-depth on these topics during the presentation, so if anything isn't clear, do ask. Please note that I update the handout for every workshop, and so have to qualify that this information is current as of today. The workshop was oriented towards parents and professionals working with autistic children, but much of this information is useful for autistic adults and anyone interested in iPads.

The workshop itself went well -- lots of great questions from the audience, plus a Deaf attendee brought up several issues I had not considered, like the need for a labeling app that integrates user videos for pre-reading Deaf users, so they can see the signs for the objects -- as voiceover is not going to help in that context. 

iPads and Autism:
Helping Our Kids Learn, Helping Our Kids Play

“My son Leo's life was transformed when a five-dollar raffle ticket turned into a brand-new iPad. I'm not exaggerating. Before the iPad, Leo's autism made him dependent on others for entertainment, play, learning, and communication. With the iPad, Leo electrifies the air around him with independence and daily new skills. People who know Leo are amazed when they see this new boy rocking that iPad. I'm impressed, too, especially when our aggressively food-obsessed boy chooses to play with his iPad rather than eat.”[1]

Benefits: Accessibility and Convenience

  • No cursor analogy – direct touch screen
  • Fine motor ease – stylus/mouse not required
  • Portable
  • Can replace backpacks – and cupboards -- of activities

Benefits: Cost

  • Entry level iPad 2 (16 GB Wi-Fi) is $499
  • Refurbished original iPad 16 GB currently on eBay for ~$300
  • Other AAC devices (Vantage, etc.) cost several thousand dollars (but iPad may not be best choice, do AAC evaluation)

Benefits: Learning

  • So much more than an AAC device! (Sometimes an issue)
  • Screen is big enough to be digital parallel to paper or books
  • Keyboard and screen are in same space, most kids aren’t touch typists, child doesn’t have to move eyes from screen to keyboard[2]
  • Apps are organized, accessible, predictable framework
  • Apps break learning down into discrete chunks, topic areas
  • Learn without needing to read, including read-aloud books
  • Learn independently or with support (but always supervised)
  • Incidental learning opportunities abound

Benefits: Social and Play

  • iPads are cool, they attract other kids – including siblings
  • Can support social skills, formally and informally
  • Independent leisure time: Learning activities, games, videos.

Overuse and Abuse?

  • What about recent study: “Autistic Kids Obsess Over Screen Technology”? [3] 
  • Autistic adults say “Yes, we’re visual and very focused, why not explore how to harness these traits productively.”
  • Savvy kids can be experts, help other kids, mentor them.
  • Makes me laugh, for kids like Leo, for whom independent is good!
  • Valid concern for kids who crave screen time (so ... Screen Time app, etc.)

When iPads Are Not in Your Budget

  • Go through insurance, school district – write into IEP
    • AAC evaluation
    • SLP recommendation
    • Research[4] (longitudinal studies are ongoing)
  • Fundraise: Community/Online – it works!
    • Free: ChipIn.com, GiveForward.org
    • Commission: Crowdrise.com
  • iPad Donation Charities – watch out for scams

iPad Protection – Insurance, AppleCare, Loss

  • All iPads come with 90 days of phone support & one year limited warranty
  • Insurance (3rd party): Protects against damage & physical loss
  • AppleCare: Service, support for technical issues, up to two years
  • Purchased content loss
    •  iTunes iOS 5 remembers purchases, will let you re-download content (everything except movies)
    • If something happens to your device, Apple can do a "Full History Regrant" of your iTunes account purchases

iPad Protection – Cases, Covers, Other Accessories

  • Cases: Protection vs. Convenience
    • All-Purpose Cases: ZooGue – Strap mounting for in-car movies, carrying, Targus 360° Rotating – sturdy, flexible stand options
    • o   Protective: Otterbox Defender, GumDrop Military, Trident Kraken, Griffin Survivor
    • CushPad for pillow-like support
    • iBallz for corners (comes with cases, too)
    • Bubcap for Home Button

Free Activities

  • Paperless worksheets shared with DropBox/Photos/DrawFree
  • Friend/Relatives facial recognition & interaction via Skype (free app)


[1] Rosa, Shannon Des Roches. “The iPad: ANear-Miracle for My Son With Autism.” BlogHer.com. http://www.blogher.com/ipad-nearmiracle-my-son-autism.
[2] Shap, Jacqui. “It was one of those ‘Oh Wow’ Moments.” iPods, iPhones, & iPads in Education. http://ipodsiphonesineducation.wikispaces.com.
[4] Sistach, Francesc. “Links to Academic Articles.” iAutism. http://www.iautism.info/en/2011/04/09/links-to-academic-papers.


  1. OMG what a wonderful post !
    Thank you

  2. My pleasure, do LMK if you have any questions.

  3. Wonderful post and thank you for doing so much to share your experiences with iPads. I have long read your blog, not commenting much, but wanted to share that I shared a link to your blog for a blog posting for a new blog for an early intervention org that I belong to wherein we are discussing the limited access to assistive technology for infants and toddlers with disabilities. We'd love to hear your thoughts if you have time. Maureen has written about this topic on our EIFA blog, check it out and share your thoughts. http://eifamilyalliance.blogspot.com/2012/02/assistive-technology-use-in-early.html


Respectful disagreement encouraged.