iPad helps SA autistic kids

2011-07-01 14:31
A child with autism uses an iPad at the Key School. (Jenni Gous)

A child with autism uses an iPad at the Key School. (Jenni Gous)

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Cape Town - Autistic children are finding the Apple iPad an aide to their learning and development, an educator has said.

Apps developed for the iPad can make a difference to children with autism, Dr Jenni Gous, head of the Key School for specialised education told News24.

"Children with autism like routine; they don't like surprises, so the app that caught my eye was one that actually prepares to go to the shop. If they know what to expect, it makes things easier for them to understand," she said.

She said that up to 50% of children with autism will never talk and they can exhibit problems with communication and socialisation.

The 30 children at the school are aged between 2 and 12 years old and the iPads were bought at half price as a teaching and learning aide.


"You can't just give them an iPad to work on by themselves - they need supervision," said Gous.

She said that while the iPad may regarded as a toy for adults, for the children at the school it was particularly invaluable because of the touch screen and the availability of apps.

"Compared to a computer, you go out, you have to buy software and you're not sure if the software is going to work with these kids.

"With the iPad you can download all the free apps that you come across and we are looking at baby apps, children apps; kindergarten apps, and a lot of apps are relevant to our kids because it’s an introduction to literacy, numeracy and sequencing or little matching games," said Gous.

She said that in addition to the apps that were specifically targeted for autistic children, the multimedia nature of the apps appealed to the learners.

"It's cause effect: Kids are touching the screen and something is happening, and that immediately catches their attention.

"A lot of kids with autism are visual learners and they respond very well to the movement, pictures and colour; and to the variety of apps that there are," Gous said.

Learning curve

The Key School though, feels that despite the number of apps on the market, that there is a need for apps specifically suited to the South African market and are investigating possible development.

The four teachers and therapy staff are also excited by the use of the iPad in the school.

"I've seen an excitement in them that you seldom see in teachers because it's actually exciting them as much as the kids. It's a learning curve for us as well," Gous said.

Gous cautioned that technology could not replace learning and teaching with a teacher, but that it should be used in conjunction with contact education, particularly for children with learning barriers.

"Anything that is going to bring a child with autism out of themselves is an absolute bonus. The iPad is not really taking over our curricular - it's included in our curricular."

The school used a budget for communication devices to buy the iPads mainly for children who are not able to speak and Gous said that these devices are much more expensive than the more generic iPad.

"Those [communication] devices have to be imported; they are sometime three times more expensive than the iPad, they are dedicated and only one child can use them."

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