There are a multitude of programs designed to engage, and hopefully enlighten communication-challenged youngsters. A great place to start is Autism Speaks’ Autism Apps webpage. That site contains a preferences filter, research ratings, and nearly 600 choices, as of this story.
The most affected and youngest patients with ASD seem to easily learn to navigate to their favorite game or YouTube video. Their facility in this arena frequently exceeds neuro-typical peers.
Since the landscape changes so quickly, specific programs are really not the issue. We have observed a new phenomenon of persistent play in developmentally delayed children who have easy access to their parents’ iPads, iPhones, etc.
Here are some of the issues that parents might consider when the child grabs for that partially broken, heavily armored, totally smeared and nearly unreadable device:
Even 1-year-olds are able to navigate the system. Parents should make sure that children are not merely doing visual-auditory stimming. What appears so cute, at first, can become a major annoyance. For some, just the credits of a favorite video or a certain song may seem quite fascinating. That is just a digital version of watching wheels, or a ceiling fan, spin. It’s not really play, and the time spent with this entertainment should be kept to a minimum.
Metabolic abnormalities found in our patients include a number of nutritional deficiencies. Vitamin D activation comes from the sun, not an iPad screen. Children must go outdoors and exercise. As old-fashioned and paternalistic as that aphorism sounds, it should be heeded, if parents have a sincere desire to help their children enjoy good health.
Try to avoid allowing such a compelling device to become the babysitter. With all of the variety, every child can find one or more apps that tickles their fancy. Busy parents may see the activity as a short break in their day – time to cook, take care of the other kids, or just relax. Unless the child is moved to another endeavor, the pattern could become a preferred, fixed, repetitive action that is difficult to manage.
Watching a small variety of videos, or various games on a device is still playing on the ‘pad. A core deficiency in autism is the existence of a narrow range of interests, so therapies should be targeted at promoting a diversity of experiences.
Apps that encourage learning basic concepts, such as number, color, letter and word recognition, can be a great educational aid. Once those skills are mastered, communication, starting with pointing, and skills that lead to sharing would be ideal.
The ultimate goal as toddlers mature is to be able to learn in a classroom with human teachers and classmates. Electronic programs can help prepare kids for the academic environment, but do the stated gains of any app promote the skills needed to succeed in school; such as, attending to the teacher, following verbal directions, and playing with other children?
Take advantage of this learning opportunity. Help your youngsters to get some socialization out of their digital experience. Join them as they master the games, and try to work on understanding how the app is somehow connecting to your children’s brains.
A final word of advice, then… don’t let the smartphone rule.