Twelve-year old Harold Dexter is sitting with an iPad with his teacher Jennifer next to him. She holds up a picture of a laminated $ 10 bill.
“What bill is this?” Jennifer asks. Harold looks down at his iPad, taps on a square labeled “Money Identification” and then presses on $ 10. “Ten,” the iPad blurts out. Jennifer puts a sticker on a pad, bringing Harold nearer to a reward.
The two race through some more questions. “What's the weather outside?” “What's the day of the week?” “What money is there in my hand?” Harold, who has autism spectrum disorder, answers verbally in most of the cases. But he's usually more comfortable with his iPad.
A few miles away, at a nongoverment special needs school in New Orleans, things are a bit slower but the approach is similar. Linda Connors, a teenager who does not usually speak, is trying to recognize simple activities on her tab. “With what to you drink?” Linda's teacher asks, and she presses on the picture of a glass.
“Where do you keep your food?”
Linda now presses the picture of a garden.
“No,” her teacher says, “We keep our food in the fridge.”
Harold and Linda are among a growing section of children with autism spectrum disorder who use digital devices like tablets and iPads, loaded with software like “Just Match” and “Math on the Farm” for learning. These smart and sleek gadgets have replaced the bulky communication devices costing $ 6,000-10,000 that were used even a few years back; if at all there was any technology among them. These children, back then, communicated by picking out relevant pictures and then stick them on a board. “A lot of time went into laminating and Velcro,” says Jennifer.
Students like Harold and Linda have so far used assistive technologies like special transmitters if they were hearing impaired or audio books in case of being visually challenged. The trend today, however, has changed towards blended learning that combines the more traditional instructional form of education along with the use of technological devices. It's less jarring to students having autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's syndrome to those from the general education stream.
“The Just Match and Math on the Farm are of course two very useful apps for autistic children, including the ones with moderate to substantial disadvantage,” says Jennifer, who has been working with special children for many years now. “We give them these apps and in most cases, they rise up to the challenge,” she adds.
Many teachers, parents, and counselors agree that devices like the tab and iPhone have been of immense help to the automatic children. The gadgets can keep them engaged and motivated. These devices also help teachers to develop personalized lessons because all autistic children are not on the same spectrum. At the same, these digital gadgets can track the progress of the kids.
It's encouraging that several schools have realized the importance of these gadgets and the apps especially designed for autistic children. But awareness about these apps is still lacking and more needs to be done in this regard.