Child with iPad in classroom

iPads® and children with ASD are a great combination!

Tuesday, 3 December, 2013

“The rapid rise in popularity and perceived potential of the iPad® has led to many educational services in the USA and elsewhere purchasing iPads® for their students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)”. That’s exactly what Amie King and colleagues (2013) inspired to start with an exploratory study into the use of iPads at a special day school for individuals with significant impairments in Midwestern United States. In a sense the popularity of this technology has outpaced research into its effectiveness. With their research, King et al. aimed to fill the knowledge gap in the tablet research literature.

How are children with ASD using iPads?

The study of King and her colleagues shows us how children with ASD are currently using iPads and apps and explores the role that education professionals have on iPad and app use. The study took place in a school to explore the use in an educational context. A total of 28 apps were observed. These were classified in three categories: 1) augmentative and alternative communication apps (AAC), 2) academic apps, and 3) game apps. The young adults and children who participated in this study were recorded on video during a school day. A total of six children and young adults (6y to 20y) with ASD were observed. King et al. explain that their choice for naturalistic observation methods enabled them to provide an unobtrusive glimpse of routine iPad use in children with ASD in their typical environment. Data coding was performed using The Observer XT software. By dividing the coding work in five phases from more general to in-depth analysis, the researchers were able to code the segments of video which were of particular interest to them in great detail. This analysis of video material led them towards describing durations of behaviors of interest, such as time spent in each of the four iPad environments (app, home screen, app settings, iPad settings), time spent in each category of app, and time app functions were used 'correctly' or 'incorrectly' (fulfilled/violated (King et al. 2013)).

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The role of the teacher

King et al. conclude that the participants used iPads and applications for a variety of purposes and that there was considerable variability regarding whether or not the application was used consistent with its intended function. Comparing the game apps, with AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) apps and academic apps, the researchers found that AAC apps in particular were used incorrectly twice as much as academic and game apps when the participant used the iPad independently. King et al. explain that in this case incorrect use may have occurred because a communication partner was not present. For further research, it would be interesting to focus on the learning aspect of the iPad or another tablet alike in order to find out if it can compete with traditional teaching methods. Furthermore, Amie King and colleagues found that an educational professional’s presence increased appropriate academic app use by 20%. They explain that this finding identifies the critical importance of an educational professional’s role in promoting appropriate use of apps. Who wouldn’t start up a game app when the teacher is out of sight? King et al. refer to the increasing use and popularity of iPad and apps in educational environments: “Because iPads function through applications, there is an endless possibility of options for integrating iPads in work with children.” However, it should be an asset to the overall goal of the educational environment (learning) and especially for the child with autism, risks should be monitored closely (risk of increasing social isolation).

International Day of People with Disabilities

This blog post was published today because today it is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Every year December 3rd marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations sanctioned day aimed at increasing public awareness, understanding and acceptance of persons with disability and in celebrating the achievements and contributions of people with disability. If people with a disability such as ASD or another developmental or intellectual disability thrive by using certain new technologies, it can aid in empowering these individuals in managing their daily lives. King and colleagues advise that additional research is necessary to support the effectiveness of iPads and guide the iPad implementation process.


  • King, A.M.; Thomeczek, M.; Voreis, G.; Scott, V. (2013). iPad® use in children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: an observational study. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, DOI: 10.1177/0265659013510922.