On December 9, 2013, Autism Speaks donated iPad 2’s to 800 financially disadvantaged individuals with autism, as well as teachers and social workers who work in the autism community with individuals in need.
After the iPad grant application was announced in November, Autism Speaks received more than 16,000 applications for iPads. Thanks to generous donations from Sevenly.org, Wyndham Worldwide, the Geier Foundation, the James Walter Pickle Charitable Foundation, the Boston Bruins Foundation, the Agarwal Foundation and Jonathan Izak, the organization mailed 800 iPad 2s to individuals in 46 states between the ages of four and 60-years-old. Each iPad came with a unique Autism Speaks Kraken A.M.S. case from Trident Case, as well as a free download code for Brain Parade’s popular app See.Touch.Learn Pro, which usually costs $39.99.
Review committees thoroughly reviewed each applicant’s unique situation in terms of the individual’s family’s financial status, his or her age and verbal ability, and most importantly, the applicant’s response to how the person would use the iPad and how it would change his or her life.
“The 16,000 applications we received are a real testament to the success that individuals with autism have had with iPads,” said Lisa Goring, Autism Speaks vice president of Family Services. “We were thrilled to be able to provide 800 iPads to financially disadvantaged individuals. It is our hope that these devices will improve the communication and language skills of the recipients and expand opportunities for them at school and in the community as a result.”
In 2012, Autism Speaks donated 830 iPads bringing the total to date to 1,630. Testimonials from last year’s recipients and their parents reflected the profound impact the devices had on their loved one’s communication skills and behavior.
“This is only my son’s second week of school using it, and already the difference has been amazing,” said the mother of a nine-year-old recipient. “Using the fun, educational apps, he has been able to demonstrate to his teachers that he knows his alphabet, numbers, shapes, colors, and many other concepts. What a difference! Before, he would get frustrated, upset, refuse to even attempt, and sometimes have meltdowns when faced with the dreaded paper worksheet. Now, not only is he completing more work – he’s having fun doing it! The possibilities for learning are endless, and best of all – he’s loving it!”
Many of the iPads were donated to adults on the spectrum. iPads have been found to improve the vocational skills of individuals with autism providing them with more job opportunities that can be so difficult to find. “The iPad has given my daughter a voice for the first time in 27 years,” said the father of an adult with autism. “My daughter never had a way to communicate until she was blessed with the donation of the iPad. I remember her face the first time she learned to use the iPad to communicate. She pushed a picture of Lion King the Movie on her iPad. I then replied, ‘Okay you want to watch Lion King.’ Nataysha stopped in her tracks and had a look on her face, as if to say ‘finally, someone understands me.’ Normally we would have a meltdown for hours while I played a guessing game of what she wanted. This is one example of how the iPad has changed not only my daughter’s life, but my whole family’s life.”
As was the case last year, approximately a quarter of the recipients were teachers working in classrooms with individuals on the spectrum. One teacher last year reported the strides her class had made as a result of the addition of the iPad to her classroom. “My class and I use the iPad every day,” she said. “I have seen improvement in communication skills for my low functioning students. My students have also learned math skills, sight words, and how to read using this tool. My student with severe autism has started communicating more because of apps that I have downloaded. It has been a true blessing.”
A study earlier this year supported by a grant from Autism Speaks, conducted by a research team that included investigators at University of California, Los Angeles, Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, tested a developmentally-based, behavioral intervention for teaching spoken language using speech generating devices (SGD), including iPads, in addition to spoken language. The study found that minimally verbal schoolchildren with autism gained spoken language faster when play-based therapy included speech-generating devices such as iPads.
This study of 62 children seen over a nine-month period found that using the speech-generating device together with spoken language yielded significantly greater improvement in spoken language in comparison to the same intervention without access to the SGD.
“Many children with autism use augmentative communication devices,” said Lauren Elder, Ph.D., Autism Speaks assistant director of dissemination science. “This study showed that these devices can help children with autism develop spoken language, which is often the most pressing concern for parents.” The study also added to recent research suggesting that many nonverbal children with autism can and do develop spoken language, Dr. Elder adds. “It also gives therapists an evidence-based treatment technique they can use to help these children.”
Building on the success of that pilot study, this November the researchers won a major grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a five-year, multisite clinical trial. The NIH grant comes through its Autism Centers of Excellence program, and the researchers include Ann Kaiser of Vanderbilt University, Connie Kasari of UCLA, Cathy Lord of Cornell Weill Medical School and Tris Smith of the University of Rochester.
“Innovative technologies, including iPads and other devices, continue to show promise for non-verbal individuals with ASD,” said Alycia Halladay, Autism Speaks senior director for environmental and clinical sciences. “This research study will help document in a scientific study the extent to which this happens.”
Autism Speaks has collected a database of hundreds apps that have been recommended to us by families and professionals in the autism community. Visit www.autismspeaks.org/autism-apps to search by age, category, device and ratings.
To stay tuned for future iPad grant announcements, visit the Autism Speaks website www.autismspeaks.org and sign up for the Community Connections newsletter.