Use of the iPad for Autism and Blindness

July 2nd, 2011 by Kel Smith | Filed under Blind, Cognitive, Innovation, Mobile Apps, Niche Construction

Holly's iPad is a hit with her schoolmates. Picture: Ben Swinnerton Herald Sun

Holly Bligh lives with an involuntary flicker of the eyes from an inherited condition. Photo by Ben Swinnerton of the Herald Sun

A story in this week’s Herald Sun from Melbourne, Australia described a young girl with a vision disorder who has used the Apple touch-screen tablet to improve her reading. Where Holly Bligh once used a heavy magnifying glass, she is now able to zoom and swipe to read classroom materials.

Holly lives with albino nystagmus, an inherited condition characterized by an involuntary flicker of the eyes. According to Holly’s teachers, the child’s visual fatigue and attention span have improved dramatically enough that her mother sent a note to Apple’s very own Steve Jobs. Even more amazingly, Mr. Jobs responded and asked if he could share Holly’s story to the Apple executive team.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reports on the use of the iPad to help kids with developmental disorders as part of a school curriculum. One cited example is a four-year-old child with a rare chromosome disorder, who is using touch technology to improve her speech and recognition skills. Autistic and deaf-blind kids who resisted picture cards were immediately hooked on the iPad.

[Teachers Rhonda Morey and Stacie Carroll] developed a program where the pupils use an iPad or iPhone in 13 classrooms. Their curriculum includes about 230 applications, such as Proloquo2Go, which features text-to-speech voices and almost 8,000 symbols, and iCommunicate.

McEwen collected data on 36 students, including detailed assessments on 12 for Phase 1 of her study last year. Phase 2 finishes in June. She has found on average, a 20 per cent improvement in students’ ability to communicate using symbols.

Much of the iPad’s value is in reinforcing what is learning in daily classwork: recognition of the alphabet, colors, numbers, vocabulary and communication skills. Teachers have also discovered that playing games helps autistic kids interact more successfully with peers, which extends to better interpretation of emotional triggers among classmates and teachers.

Four-year-old Farhan Ahmod, who has autism, is just learning how to use the iPad. With help from Carroll, he points to the images for noodles and a drink box he wants for lunch … Farhan’s father Juber Ahmod said he’s seen a big improvement since his son started school and began using the iPad. Farhan responds to his name and sits down and eats when asked, when before he didn’t understand.

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