“Should I buy an iPad?” A question I hear often from families.

Of course they are fun and sleek, but will it help your child? Before saying yes or no or maybe- let’s take a look at several considerations.

Many individuals with autism are attracted to computers, smart phones and technology in general. iPads or other electronic tablets are mobile technology devices that may aid in a child’s ability to access alternative and augmentative communication systems (AAC). The iPad or electronic tablet can be used as a communication board or augmentative communication device that can be individualized by adding your own images or visual supports such as “First/Then” strips from Working 4 (by Pyramid Educational Consultants). Most applications (apps) are transferrable between an electronic tablet, such as the iPad, and a smart phone and thus may be helpful for children and families who are on the go.

There is a large range of mobile applications that are useful to children with autism all the way from simple, two button Yes/No (by Answers HD) to sophisticated, multilevel, communication systems like Proloquo2go (by AssistiveWare). Tap to Talk (by Assistyx) is a popular app that uses a folder system to access desired symbols. Most apps come with a pre-populated symbol set and voice generation already embedded into the system when purchased or the ability to have a voice recorded into the system. Personal photos taken either with the electronic tablet or downloaded from your digital camera can be added to almost all libraries of symbols for individualization.

Electronic tablets are light, portable and have touch screen features that may be more accessible for some children on the spectrum than other communication devices. Children with fine motor problems or specific learning difficulties may find the sliding touch screen and light tapping to activate, easier than typing or writing. This type of increased access to communication systems, shared games, and reinforcement appears to increase some children’s ability to focus and attend to new information. Tablets are sometimes viewed as a more attractive option than the more traditional devices since many children have mobile technology devices at school, not just children with disabilities.

The iPad or other electronic tablets are not a cure for autism, as some have overly stated in the press; however, given knowledgeable support personnel, it can be used to increase the learning and communication of individuals with autism.

What do you all think? Any favorite apps? Or rave reviews of a technology that is helping your child or family?