An app for autism

Tech to speech  
By ARIEL SHEARER  |  April 19, 2012

This month marks the second anniversary of Apple's first public iPad release. In just two years, the world has adjusted to spamming friends with pictures of cats with the flick of a fingertip.

But for some people with autism, the iPad has become invaluable for simple communication.

In November, the state Office of Special Education and Student Services teamed with the Boston schools to launch an iPad project for students with autism. Melissa Dodd, head of the Office of Instructional and Information Technology for Boston Public Schools, says a grant helped purchase more than 200 iPads, and 90 teachers have been trained to use them to help their students.

What can an iPad do for an autistic kid? Well, in a lot of cases, it's replacing older technology. Students who can't speak often use dedicated touchscreen devices that let them navigate visual menus of words or images to form a phrase. IPads can do the same thing, but they're cheaper and sleeker.

"Some of the special type-to-text devices — they're heavy, they're bulky, they're expensive," says Corina Becker, 26, who blogs about autism and iPad apps. "You don't want to bring them anywhere because they might break. But with an iPad — I have an iPod — you just slip it in your pocket, and you're good to go, as long as you keep it charged."

What's more, carrying a iPad around doesn't look weird. "For a student, an iPad isn't seen as any type of stigma, because of its cool factor," says Dodd.

Teresa Dooley-Smith, founder of TDS Speech Pathology Associates, Inc., calls the iPad "life-changing." She considers herself a pioneer using iPads in speech therapy. "This has absolutely opened a window for conversation and feedback that is peer-centered," Dooley-Smith says.

Dodd says BPS recently received a second grant, this one from Verizon, to expand the project and evaluate Boston's iPad and Special Education pilot project. From teachers to device users, Dodd says feedback is positive.

"I've had the fortune and opportunity to see [these] students communicate and express themselves" using iPads, she says. "It's the most powerful thing. It brings tears to your eyes."

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  Topics: This Just In , Technology, News, iPads
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