BY BOB HOLT
Many autistic children have problems developing social skills, but often have an easier time with games and technology. Autistic children have been taking to Apple's popular devices, poking the screens, which are customized to their needs. Parents started noticing that their autistic children were attracted to the touch screen technology of the iPad, and word spread quickly between parents about this new use for the computer.
Computers have been used by autistic children for decades. But experts say the customizable and intuitive interface of the Apple machines, along with their portability, offers promise beyond the relatively-bulky computers of the past.
Other companies are creating similar applications for different devices, such as Motorola's Droid. But autism experts say Apple is the leader — for now.
Entire schools have started to rely on the new technology. NJ.com reports that every child at the Reed Academy, a non-profit school in Garfield for autistic pupils, has an iPod Touch. Two dozen Reed Academy students, ranging in age from 3 to 14, go about their individualized days — but return constantly to their touch screens with their teachers.
The next goal is to teach students to bring their high-tech tools out into the world, Reed Academy teacher Kelli De Rosa told NJ.com. The upside of the device, she said, is it could actually help autistic kids fit in with their peers who have the same devices.
There are dozens of programs touted by various experts in the autism community, some of which tell stories, others, which work on vocabulary, and others which simply entertain.
However, the experts also warn the touch-screen technologies are not a "magic bullet." Although student Marc Rader played his first video game within a week of laying hands on his iPad, he still has fine motor difficulties and difficulty focusing and his tutor Mark Mautone spends hours tailoring apps and software for his student. He also must help Marc tap the right parts of the screen and cycle through the menus.
According to sfweekly.com, the iPad isn't perfect for children with autism. For one thing, the built-in battery doesn't last forever. There are sometimes inexplicable software glitches that can crash the system. Most problematic might be its durability: One bad tantrum, and there goes the screen. Some on the autism spectrum lack manual dexterity, or are simply not capable of learning how to use a computer.
Apple highlights possible iPad and iPod Touch uses for people with motor skill or speech problems on their website.