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Suffolk Center for Speech


Maximizing the Effectiveness of iPad Use for All Children

iPads are growing in popularity with not only children who have Autism but with children of all ages. These can be great tools as there are different ways to utilize an iPad as well as certain activities that can be used to maximize its effectiveness with regards to the specific goal being targeted. For example, iPads should be utilized in different ways whether a parent’s goal is to encourage communication with their child, accomplish daily activities with their child and/or allow their child to receive it as a reward. It is important that these distinctions are made to eliminate any confusion the child might have with regards to the expectations they may have for the iPad. Here are some suggestions for each specified use for the iPad:

  1. Encouraging Communication
  • Look for apps that include pictures and photographs and simultaneously provide the verbal label as the image is chosen. Keep an eye out for apps that allow the number of pictures displayed to be controlled along with personalization of categories.
  • Use the iPad to make requests. Model making a request via the iPad by touching the desired object that the child is asking for, repeat the label for the item then immediately give the child the item. For example, if your child is asking for juice then press the iPad symbol for juice, say “juice” and then hand your child the juice. Additionally, any time your child tries to imitate, approximate or spontaneously say the target word reward them immediately with the requested item. Continue working with as many items as possible as this will not only help the child learn to associate pictures with objects but it will also increase their vocabulary. Try starting with a field of one to two items and as the child learns how to use the iPad appropriately begin increasing the field to more pictures on the screen at one time. Once the child is successfully requesting items via the iPad, try introducing comments about objects via the iPad as well.
  • TIP: If the main purpose for the iPad is to teach language then it is important to avoid putting games on it until the child is consistently communicating, otherwise, they may escape out of the program and instead try to open the games. It is also important that the iPad is available at all times if the primary use is communication as the child’s voice should not be taken away. Lastly, communication between the parent and the child’s therapist and/or teacher is key to increasing generalization for the iPad.
  1. Accomplishing Daily Activities
  • Several apps exist that provide support for daily activities and routines through schedules along with visual aids.
  • A schedule can be kept on the iPad with reminders that show when it is time for the next activity to decrease difficulty and/or anxiety with transitions. Additionally, visual schedules can be utilized that lay out all of the activities the child will engage in that day and in the exact order that they will occur to aid in transitions as well. Visuals also allow the child to stay focused on the task at hand as they understand that the previous activity has finished and they know what to expect next.
  • Steps for daily activities that the child may demonstrate difficulty with can be kept on the iPad, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, cleaning room, etc. The steps can include pictures/visuals with each step for the child to follow along with the help increase independence.
  1. Rewarding with the iPad
  • iPads are a great motivational tool as there is a never ending list of fun and engaging games for children of all ages. However, apps can be chosen in a way that not only benefits the child recreationally but functionally as well.
  • When utilizing the iPad as a reward system, try choosing a behavior to be targeted that is appropriate for the child’s skill level. Some examples include sharing, being respectful to family members and independently getting ready for school or bed.
  • Instead of targeting a behavior as a whole right away, try breaking the behavioral down into smaller ones that can be rewarded. For example, if the goal behavior is to share, the behavior can be broken down by rewarding the child for every minute they have not taken a toy out of someone else’s hands. The demands can be increased to two minutes then five minutes before getting the iPad. Once this is consistent the child must also give their own toys to another individual to play with for the entirety of the activity prior to playing with the iPad. If the behavior was getting ready for school, start with one task and continue adding more over time.
  • Ensure that the reward system is consistent and that the child understands exactly what is expected of them in order to receive the iPad. The child should not only receive the iPad every time the specified behavior is accomplished, but the child should also not receive the iPad at other times for different reasons. Over time more behaviors can be targeted in which the child can earn time on the iPad.


SOURCE: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/technology/maximizing-use-ipad

-Rebecca Hipp M.A., CF-SLP, TSSLD

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