I spent six years working with secondary-aged (14-21 years old) students with autism. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever had the privilege to do.
At that time, the state of technology for these types of uses was woefully behind where it is today. Granted, we’re talking about 1999-2005, but stay with me. The technology that non-verbal students used to communicate, for instance, was a huge, heavy piece of metal and plastic that had barely programmable capabilities for certain words and phrases that would be spoken upon selection through a garish sound system rivaled only by 1980s clock radio speakers. This equipment was exorbitantly priced, and very inflexible. The one thing it did well (arguably) was stand up to some abuse. They were like small tanks. But the kids would have to wear them around their necks and shoulders, which could be extremely uncomfortable. If they didn’t have it with them, communication with others became difficult.
Enter the iPad, a device that to this day, some tech people don’t see a market for, or a place in their delicately-constructed workflows. Hence the question always comes up: “who exactly is the iPad for?”, and much hand-wringing and market analysis ensues.
I’ll keep this concise: the iPad is for people you’re not even considering, using it for things that would have never crossed your mind.
With an iPad, which is a few hundred dollars, students have the ability to use a host of new and updated software — iMore covered some of the best earlier this month. You can find something for every type of child, every type of learner. Text to speech built into the device, as basic as it seems to us, is positively revolutionary to children and parents. Guided access helps ensure success and mitigates frustration. The possibilities are endless, and always growing.
This month marks both the 5th anniversary of the iPad and Autism Awareness Month. There’s so much more I could say about both, but I’ll leave it at this — I love my iPad, and I know lots of people who do as well. For anyone who doesn’t, hey, no worries. No one’s forcing you to use one. But don’t write it off entirely because a Venn diagram of the people you follow on Twitter agrees with you for the most part. It’s a truly transformative device for many people who had laughable options before. And without hyperbole, I can say it’s changing lives.