‘Not a magical solution’
Speech and communication problems can be
hugely complex to support, and there’s no single approach that works for
everybody. As Rachel Moore points out, the excitement around the iPad as a
communication tool has been so great that there’s a danger people view it as a
app – the Somantics app aims to stimulate interest through touch and gesture
‘The buzz around the iPad can give people
false expectations,’ she says. ‘One of the drawbacks is that because iPads are
so easily available, it’s very easy for parents to go and get one and download
an app – which can be very expensive – and then find out it isn’t working very
well. We would say the starting point isn’t the iPad but the individual: you
need to find the iPad but the individual: you need to find the right technology
Rebecca Bright agrees. ‘While the iPad is
suitable for many children, it’s not a magical solution for everyone. Sometimes
there have been articles in the media which talk about the iPad as treatment
for various conditions. This hype needs to be balanced with the standard
assessment and advice from trained speech and language therapists.’
The sheer scale of the iPad app market
poses an extra problem for therapists, Bright says: ‘There are so many applications
now available that therapists need to work to keep up to date with the latest
apps,’ she says.
For some autistic people who are used to
using their iPad to watch videos or listen to music, it can be a challenge to
grasp that they can be used for other purposes, Bright adds.
Another potential drawback is that iPads
can be rather fragile – although everyone iPad & iPhone user spoke
to pointed out that with the right case, this is much less a problem.
But for the right individual, and with the
right support, the iPad can be a fantastically adaptable and appealing tool,
and one that can help those with communication difficulties develop their
skills and better communicate with the wider world.
iPad apps help those affected by austism
‘There’s a great wave of apps that support
communication: I’m not in opposition to that, but we are about allowing the
individual to experience the joy of interacting,’ explains Dr Wendy Keay-Bright
of Cardiff Metropolitan University.
A specialist in inclusive design,
Keay-Bright and her team have worked with two groups of young people with
autism to create two free apps, ReacTickles Magic (reactickles.org, right) and
Somantics (semantics.org, above), that are closer to interactive art than
developmental tools. Touching the screen on either app produces graphic
patterns that change and develop in response to the user’s interactions.
Many of the people they worked with were
profoundly affected by autism. ‘One group was functioning at the level of a
three-year-old, but they were 19 to 22 years old. The future doesn’t hold a lot
of independence for them, and opportunities to be playful and creative are
quite slim,’ says Keay-Bright.
The iPad’s tactility and simplicity was
important for Keay-Bright and her team. ‘For young people with autism, delays
in processing is a characteristic – this is why social interaction is such a
problem,’ she explains.
‘So when you touch something and there’s an
immediate response, it cuts down a lot of cognitive processes. You can reduce
the cognitive overload by having the cause and effect in the same motion.’