Recently, Educational Experience came across a compelling and insightful blog, Considerate Classroom. Curated by Lindy McDaniel, the blog was full of practical tips and resources to enhance the learning experience of children with a range of developmental needs, from sensory needs through to children with Autism.

With an expanding range of technologies being used to enhance learning, we are lucky enough to have Lindy compose an article exploring her passion in using iPads with children with Autism.  

When the first generation iPad came out, I had the opportunity to work with the state of Kansas’ Autism and Tertiary Behavior Support Network in exploring how iPads could be used in an early childhood special education classroom. During that process, I came up with 25 Ways to use an iPad in an Early Elementary Classroom. Although iPads have evolved over the years this list of 25 ways to use them still serves its purpose.

When used in a STYSTEMATIC way iPads can be highly influential in the education of all students especially those with Autism and related disabilities.  You may have noticed my emphasis on the word systematic.  It is important to address the rules and roles of the iPad in the home and classroom.  For example, in my classroom we used this visual to support our students in playing on the iPad appropriately. 

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NOTE: You can learn more about my classroom rules and centre expectations by clicking here.  

IPAD

A version of rules that might be used at home would include no food or drink by the iPad, and no iPad until you have completed your chores and/or homework.  These rules can simply be attached to the cover of your iPad for convenience.

Which leads me to the biggest challenge, I have faced in recent years.  In the beginning, iPads were so new and novel most of my students didn’t have access to them at home.  When they were used in the classroom, the students were just pleased to be using them.  They didn’t have any preconceived notion of how to use them or what games they wanted to play on them.  In more recent years, we fight the battle of students wanting to play certain games or watch YouTube and Netflix because that is how they use their devices at home.  

I will be the first to admit iPads can serve a very different purpose at home and school.  At home they may be used more frequently for recreation or as a time filler when the adults in the home are busy.  At school they are more often used for drill and practice of skills and to reinforce good behaviour. Through effective collaboration between home and school, iPads can serve a more influential role in a child’s education and progress. 

The bottom line is teachers and parents both want the best for children.  Teachers often have expertise in knowing what apps would be good for children academically and parents know their children’s favourite characters and areas of interest to tap into for motivation and reinforcement.  Therefore it is very beneficial to have an ongoing conversation with parents and family members who use iPads and other devices in the home.  For example, if a classroom was using the Word SlapPs app to expand vocabulary for a student, they could send the family a link to the app as well as the vocabulary words they are using with it.  Parents could share apps their children use at home and classroom staff could then use the apps as reinforcers for good performance and behaviour. 

Along with the many educational purposes, iPads can be used to support communication, self-regulation, and scheduling but again they must be used in a systematic way!  For example, the iPad can be a great communication tool for students who are nonverbal or have limited verbal communication but not without training and collaboration.  When incorporating communication app such as So Much2 SayProloquo2Go, and My First AAC. It is important for the student’s teacher, speech language pathologist, or assistive technology provider to share with parents and family members how the communication apps can be used and how they are supporting their use in the classroom. 

The open communication between home and school can also be used to train appropriate behaviour.  When needed you can send video modeling and social narrative examples via email that students can review and watch on their iPad before coming to school.  This was a perfect intervention for a little friend of mine, who struggled walking into the classroom each day.  As soon as he began watching a video of my son walking into the classroom appropriately on his ride to school, he was able to walk in perfectly. 

In conclusion, the iPad can be used in a variety of ways for children with Autism and related disabilities but to reach its highest potential, its role for each individual child should be discussed across settings.  Most children will play on it for hours!  Which can provide many opportunities for learning but it can also be abused and used to often without purpose of making progress.  It is up to us as parents and educators to monitor student use and give iPads and other technology devices an educational purpose.  For more information on how to do this refer to my blog Considerate Classroom.

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