Tablets can help autistic kids

By Drum Digital
02 April 2014

Stacey Vee calls her five-year-old son Travis the Lionheart. “Like Richard the Lionheart of English history,” Stacey explains. “Because he’s just so brave, with everything he’s had to go through.”

Travis was born with a rare brain malformation called septo-optic dysplasia (SOD). About 30 per cent of children with SOD develop autistic traits. “Note that he has autistic traits and not autism,” Stacey (32) points out. This is because an MRI of a child with autism would show their brains aren’t abnormal in terms of structure. “But if you do an MRI on Travis, it’s clear he was born with an odd structure in his brain. His neural networks were forced to re-route to avoid these ‘damaged’ areas, and it’s this that causes him to display the characteristics of a child with autism,” Stacey explains.

Every year the Vee family participate in a fundraising initiative during World Autism Awareness Month, April. In 2011 the family took part in the Big Autism Walk around Zoo Lake, Johannesburg. “But we wanted to do something more tangible,” Stacey says.

She came up with the idea of finding a second-hand iPad to donate to an autistic child. “iPads and autism work together like peanut butter and jam, ice cream and hot chocolate sauce or Simon and Garfunkel!” Stacey writes on her website, She also has a blog, There’s a Lionheart in our Bathtub (

“For some reason an iPad is an interface that just ‘clicks’ for a child with autism. It’s an educational as well as a communication tool and it gives them confidence. Sometimes an iPad is their only friend in a lonely and confusing world.”

However, iPads – even secondhand – are expensive and a luxury the parents of many other Lionhearts such as Travis can’t afford. “Our goal was to get just one generous person to donate us their secondhand iPad, which we could rehome with a family who couldn’t afford to buy one for their child with autism.”

Stacey succeeded and 12-year-old Emma Hunt of Durban, who has Asperger’s syndrome, received an iPad. “But more and more families started to write in [to the blog], both to ask for iPads and to donate old ones. So we decided to just run with it.”

“For the right child it can be such a fantastic tool,” she says. The higher-functioning children, such as those with Asperger’s, have greater success using iPads for communication. Stacey says there are all sorts of applications designed to help special needs children to communicate. “It can help them make their needs known,” she explains. Some apps display flashcards, featuring photographs rather than cartoons, which autistic children are better able to comprehend.

There are also apps for the parents of special needs children that can help them to track their child’s behaviour. The drive has been so successful Stacey has decided to register a non-profit organisation (NPO) so people can also donate money. For more info go to

- Kirstin Buick

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