60 Minutes Segment:Thoughts

31 10 2011

Recently, there was a story on 60 Minutes that featured the iPad and apps for individuals with Autism.

While I can agree that the iPad is a revolutionary tool for students with a variety of disabilities, not just Autism, I tend to take the 60 Minutes piece as a piece for the masses. From a practitioner’s point of view, my perspective is different.

I’m not the only one to think this way.

In a blog post by Adam Slota from ASHA, he speaks about the skewed view of the 60 Minutes piece gives in terms of the iPad. Simply “prescribe the iPad as a panacea for autism treatment, you know, just give the kid an iPad and he’ll be on his way to communicating and that it’ll unlock an new and undiscovered portal into their minds that we never knew existed”.

Another blogger and long-time AT professional, Jeanette Van Houten speaks to the importance of finding the right TOOL for the end user. This message is not conveyed at all in the 60 Minutes piece. In fact, it detracts from the powerful tool that the iPad truly is and makes it seem that without the iPad, any and all therapies, teaching, and techniques that have been proven to work with individuals with Autism are virtually worthless. At least that’s how the piece felt to me.

No one can deny the potential of the iPad as a powerful TOOL for learning for individuals with special needs- not just Autism. While there are a variety of Augmentative Communication Devices on the market that may provide the same function, yes, the iPad can be a lower-cost alternative. But before one goes forth and declares an iPad for one and all, it is wisest to do the homework and make an informed decision.

This is true of ANY tool that is used to enhance the educational experience of a student. Training, data collection, careful evaluation, and ongoing assessment must be in place before making a determination. Teams must ask the following:

1. What is it we want students to be able to know?

2. How do we know they’ve learned it?

3. What happens when they don’t?

Looking at the setting, environment, tasks and tools is also a key component to assessing what, if any, Assistive Technology needs to be in place. Furthermore, student buy in is critical. If they don’t like it- they are not going to use it.

While I’ve been fortunate to see first hand how the iPad can benefit students with Autism, it was done with careful planning, training, and assessment. Thoughtful implementation and consideration of matching the app to the learner is critical. Ensuring that the iPad is used as a tool for learning, communication, etc is paramount. Otherwise the iPad will amount to nothing than a flash in the pan or a glorified TV. This would be the greatest disservice to those that benefit from the device the most.