iPad helps toddler with autism communicate

5:43 PM, Feb 16, 2011   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When 2 1/2-year old Jeremiah Gould's parents won an iPad, they never expected how much it would help their son communicate.

Jeremiah has autism and does not speak. He's been learning to communicate by handing pictures of things he wants to do to his parents or his speech therapists at Easter Seals in Portland. But he was not making much progress until he got the iPad four months ago.

His father, Zak Gould, suspected Jeremiah might respond well to the touch screen because he is a visual learner. Sure enough, they started playing with apps that allowed Jeremiah to make fireworks with the touch of a finger or pop bubbles, and he loved them. Other apps Jeremiah uses will show 3 photos on the screen, and the computer will ask him verbally to touch a specific picture. The computer congratulates him for picking the correct picture.

Jeremiah's mother, Elise Gould, says she didn't realize how many words her son comprehended until he started using the iPad. "It was almost like getting to know him a little bit more, and I think that was nice for him to be able to say, 'Hey! I know how to do this, and I can do this!'"

Jeremiah's speech language pathologist at Easter Seals, Julie Fagone, also has seen a big difference. She says he's more motivated to try new things with his teachers, and his fine motor skills have improved dramatically. "We've seen an increase in his pointing, which is a big deficit in kids on the autism spectrum. They don't do these natural things, like pointing to call attention to something that interests them," Fagone said.

The hope is that once Jeremiah starts learning to mimic sounds, he'll understand enough words that he'll start speaking in sentences in no time. In the meantime, his parents are teaching him to express his wants and needs by pointing at pictures on the iPad. It's easier for them to take when they leave the house, rather than a large book full of pictures of things Jeremiah might ask them for.

Fagone says that while the iPad has been a great help to Jeremiah, she's not using it in the classroom yet because its speakers aren't loud enough to catch the attention of multiple toddlers at once, and because not every one of the kids she works with would have access to one at home. But she says it really seems to show promise. And she says parents who are interested in trying an iPad with a toddler who has autism, definitely should talk to their child's speech language pathologist about how to integrate the computer into their child's overall program.


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