Friday, 24 June 2011

Re-thinking the iPad

iPads and autism: it’s been making the tech pages in international news for months. Now Steve Jobs’ newest gadget is working its magic in a South African school for students with autism. And this tech-loving gadget girl just happens to have a son who’s both autistic, and almost spends more time fiddling with her iPhone than she does.

I was at a talk hosted by Core at the iStore in Sandton yesterday. Core is the sole distributor of Apple in the country and has partnered with The Key School, who has 30 autistic students starting from the ages of three years old and up.

Honestly, I was a concerned that these special students would be trotted out in front of a room full of journalists to give a demo (flashes of Travis the Lionheart hurling an iPad at a clump of skittish print media people). No fear, though, we were shown clips from Apple showcasing how the device is changing the way children are learning in classrooms in the States. They’ve sold 25 million iPads globally in just 14 months – crazy numbers.

It comes down to this: almost all people with autism are visual learners. For instance, a flash card application on the iPad that shows an actual photo of say, a cow (and not a cartoon of a cow – autistic learners are very literal thinkers) and then says the word “Cow!” is effective. The iPad encourages these often solitary and “locked in” students to interact with it. Play musical notes with a tap of a fingertip. Read interactive fairytales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, following the highlighted words.

And as many children with autism have low muscle tone, and struggle with even a simple pencil grip like the Lionheart – no problem. You can prop the lightweight iPad up on a table and it’s easily cradled in the crook of your arm or in your lap.

Dr Jenni Gous, the principal at The Key School, gave a very well-balanced presentation about autism in general, and how her students are responding to the iPad specifically. I say well-balanced because I particularly liked how she highlighted both the strengths and the weaknesses of the iPad as an educational and communications tool in the development of autistic children. “Remember, it’s not a magic bullet,” she said. I respect that.

For instance, overuse of the iPad (and frankly, any form of media-rich technology), can actually increase ADHD and lower concentration – the frontal cortex will eventually become inactive from lack of stimulation. Something to consider.

So here’s the skinny.

An iPad 2 will set you back around R4 400 to R7 600, depending on which model you purchase, but if you intend using it primarily as an educational device for your autistic learner, I don’t see why you can’t get the most basic first generation model, for R3 300. I’m no expert on the SARS Disabilities Grant, but I think the chances are excellent you can write it off as a refundable expense if it’s motivated correctly to the Receiver.

Dr Gous says that the iPad apps they’re using have all been downloaded for free, and there is a huge variety of them out there.

Is Travis the Lionheart getting an iPad from Santa this year? He just might.


  1. i love the way 'hopeless'situations are being given so much attention.

    my brother grew up with dyslexia and was severely held back by what was available at the time and now my cousin is dyslexic and has unbelievable resources available to her.

    travis the lionheart is lucky little boy to have been born at a time when there are these options and to a mom that is willing to try them.

  2. The talk sounds really interesting and I'm glad to hear she was biased about it and not trying to sell it as a magic device like Steve Jobs is.

    I do think it has alot to offer and my husband, who is an apple geek, was telling me there are a few sites to download free apps so when you get it let us know and I'll post some links :)

  3. That's incredible! Something definitely to explore!

  4. Now I just have to SAVE for this wonder gadget... he he.


Thanks for sharing, Lionheart readers. ROAR!