Autism and iPads- Setting up parameters Part 1

I’m sure you’ve read all the hype about how an iPad can assist your students on the Spectrum.

There is significant research out there celebrating the use of iPads in the Autism Community. Then you have well known people, such as Temple Grandin.

suggesting in a number of interviews that iPads can play a huge role in successful learning for children who have Autism.
You may have heard about Carly Fleischmann and how technology literally opened up a world of communication for her.


and you just have to go to YouTube, Autism Communities and the many parent blogs out there to find applaud for tablet technology and the benefit for children with learning differences.

While I concur as I’ve spent the last five years researching, trialing, experimenting and designing programs using iPad and apps for all students, but especially for those on the Spectrum, I also believe that the last five years has taught us hugely about how we should implement and integrate this technology. I am extremely concerned by some of the stories I hear from teachers on how the device is being used and how the technology is being set up. We have to be clear, iPads are individual, personalised technology. They are not meant to be used as a fill in or a reward, because then you are missing the real benefit of it’s use and they shouldn’t be used for ‘iPad’ sessions, like we used to have ‘computer’ time.

Technology is now an assimilated, instilled part of everyday life. Technology is also quickly becoming as integral as pen and paper was in the past. We use technology to tell the time, read the news, write a note, send a message, research answers, do our banking, book a ticket, navigate a route and so on. As integral as technology is to daily life; we need to treat technology in the same way in education. Timetabling technology as a unique part of curriculum is a thing of the PAST!

Consequently, I came up with the following guidelines. Some are simply questions you should ask yourself and ask your school and some are some parameters that you can set with your students. I’m sure you could come up with some extra points that suit your particular clientele, but this will at least provide you with a starting point.

Also, most of these points I’ve written with the child who has Autism in mind, but you can easily relate this to the neurotypical child as well.
AutismHow will you use the iPad?

1:1 iPad use is the most appropriate or viable way to deploy iPads into the classroom for students on the Spectrum. This gives each student ownership over their iPad; all of their work is stored on the one iPad; and the iPad is readily available when students need to use it. This avoids all kinds of confusion for the student who has Autism and also means they open up a screen that is familiar and personalized for them. Not doing this would be similar to handing a child with Autism a different ‘workbook’ each day.

AutismSecurity Issues

Ensure iPads are all set up to prevent students from accessing sites, videos or apps that are not appropriate for them. The iPad has extremely good security options inbuilt into the iPad’s settings. You can set the iPad to only be able to access G rated apps, music, videos and other content. You can also prevent students from accessing the iTunes and App Store.

This is vital for students on the Spectrum because they are extremely ‘tech’ savvy and while we need security for the iPad, we also need to make available sites like YouTube that are normally restricted for students. Being able to restrict the content by setting age and ratings limits, means students can still watch age and education appropriate content. YouTube is an invaluable resource and I think shutting it off altogether cuts off access to some really great educational videos.

AutismSelecting Apps

Having a core list of apps really helps. When I first started out on this journey, I had too many apps. It was overwhelming for me to try to learn how to use them and then teach the students how to use them. I now, think it is wiser to start with a few apps….get to know how to use them and how to use them in your classroom. Then you can add apps as you go. Be clear about what you want to do with the apps and this helps you to narrow the selection further.

AutismMake sure you know how the apps work

I suggest using the apps and playing with all the settings. Go through each step of the app and know how it works. Can the app be adjusted and differentiated in the settings section? Is there a way to make the app easier, or harder? Think about how you can use these apps in an educational context for your students and how you can integrate the technology into your lessons.

Taking courses on iPad use can help you to navigate your way through the minefield of apps and get some idea of what apps to use. Go to www.tta.edu.au for courses on how to use iPads in the classroom.

Go to Vimeo, Teacher Tube and other teacher educational sites for reviews on how to use apps. Additionally there are lots of videos made by educators on how to use certain apps in the classroom. This is a fantastic resource and one I highly recommend.


AutismAllocate the iPad for educational use only.

One of the very early decisions I made was to only have educationally based apps on the iPad….this did include educational games….but I left all other games off the device at the very early stage of iPad deployment into my classroom.

I believe this is a vital decision to make because I think children have plenty of opportunities to play games using various other technologies like the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Computer games etc. Keeping the iPad as an educational tool ensures that students will view the technology from this perspective.

The iPad should not be used as a ‘fill in’ or for ‘rewards’ – if the technology is being used this way, then it is not being used effectively and more importantly is not being utilized to create the best possible educational outcomes for your students.

AutismThe device cannot do the work for you or replace you as a teacher

You have to drive its use and be at the control panel. You decide what apps to use, how to use them and how you connect them to your overall curriculum and lesson plans. You will need to differentiate the use of the iPad and apps to suit your students who have Autism.

It is NOT enough to just had a child the device without some preparation and instruction, let alone determining how the device will best assist each student’s learning outcomes. The iPad is essentially an educational tool and it will only be as effective as the teacher who is overseeing its use.

AutismFinally a couple of words on setting up parameters for using device for students who are on the Spectrum

All children, and especially those who are on the Autism Spectrum need firm guidelines and parameters for using iPads both at home and the classroom. If we do this from the very start, then this will become a part of what is expected. We all know that developing routines and structures are extremely important, so it makes sense to introduce the iPad with some routine and structure.

Karen Barley

Part 2 coming in the next few days:

 Introduce the iPad as a Personal Learning Studio

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