iPads may help boost speaking skills in kids with autism: study

July 1, 2014 by Kathleen Doheny, Healthday Reporter
iPads may help boost speaking skills in kids with autism: study
Combining use of device with therapy sessions helped minimally verbal children talk, interact.

(HealthDay)—Adding access to a computer tablet to traditional therapy may help children with autism talk and interact more, new research suggests.

The study compared language and social communication treatment—with or without access to an iPad computer tablet—in 61 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and found that the device helped boost the effect of the treatment.

"All the children improved, but they improved more if they had access to the iPad," said Connie Kasari, professor of and psychology and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles' Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

The children used the iPad when they were engaged in play, she said. "It focused on helping them initiate conversation, using the iPad to comment on what they were doing. The iPad worked because it is a visual stimulant with ," she explained. For instance, children would mispronounce a word, hear it pronounced correctly on the iPad, and then learn to say it correctly, she said.

But, Kasari emphasized, "The iPad is just a tool." It worked because it was used within a treatment aimed at helping improve the children's communication skills, she noted.

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy organization, funded the study.

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disorders. Communication and social problems are hallmarks of ASDs. As many as one in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children in the study were between the ages of 5 and 8. All were considered "minimally verbal," which experts define as speaking fewer than 20 functional words, Kasari said. "The majority had far fewer." About 30 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder are minimally verbal, she said, sometimes even after years of treatment.

For the first three months, all of the children received two sessions a week, totaling two to three hours a week. At the three-month mark, nearly 78 percent of children in the iPad-added group had an early response, but just 62 percent of those in the group without it did, the investigators found.

An early response was defined as an improvement of 25 percent or more in half of the 14 measures, such as the number of spoken words and the use of new words, Kasari said.

If a child was not progressing at the three-month mark, the researchers added the tablet. But adding it later was not as effective as using it from the start, Kasari's team found. The researchers followed the children for three years.

"The idea of using an iPad is a novel approach," said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, an attending physician at the Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. Milanaik treats children with autism and reviewed the study's findings.

"The idea of technology being used to help children who really need different approaches is so important," she said. It's crucial, however, she agreed, to understand that the iPad "was simply a tool" and that it was an adjunct to the traditional interventions that aimed to improve communication and other developmental advances.

While a 25 percent improvement—the measure used to define response—may not seem like much to some, Milanaik said that "every small step, for the parents of an autistic child, is monumental."

Kasari and her team are continuing to study the iPad, planning to enroll about 200 in four cities during a planned five-year study.

If the research continues to bear out, the hope would be to use the iPads in school programs and to train parents in its use at home, both experts agreed.

Explore further: iPads help late-speaking children with autism develop language

More information: To learn more about continuing autism research, visit Center for Autism Research and Treatment.

Related Stories

iPads help late-speaking children with autism develop language

November 19, 2013
The iPad you use to check email, watch episodes of Mad Men and play Words with Friends may hold the key to enabling children with autism spectrum disorders to express themselves through speech. New research indicates that ...

More than fun and games: iPads give autistic children a voice

May 22, 2014
Jaime Morin, 9, was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and has been nonverbal his whole life. When the therapy he was receiving at school became insufficient, his mother, Lupe Santander, sent him to Big Sky Pediatric Therapy, ...

APA: iPad use in classroom ups communication in ASD

August 1, 2013
(HealthDay)—Use of handheld touch devices in classrooms may be beneficial for enhancing communication skills among children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American ...

Parents of children with autism often have autistic traits

June 25, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Studying children with autism and their parents, researchers have found that when a child has autism, his or her parents are more likely to have autistic traits than parents who don't have a child with ...

Motor skill deficiencies linked to autism severity in new research

April 24, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—An Oregon State University researcher has found a relationship between motor skill deficiencies and the severity of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in very young children.

Black, Hispanic children with autism more likely to regress than whites

May 6, 2014
Some children with autism appear to be developing normally when they are very young. They babble or even talk, make eye contact with their parents, and crawl and walk on schedule. Then suddenly, these skills seem to vanish.

Recommended for you

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Females with autism show greater difficulty with day-to-day tasks than male counterparts

July 14, 2017
Women and girls with autism may face greater challenges with real world planning, organization and other daily living skills, according to a study published in the journal Autism Research.

Researchers investigate possible link between carnitine deficiency and autism

July 13, 2017
Researchers are always looking for new clues to the causes of autism, with special emphasis on prevention or treatment. At Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Arthur Beaudet has been following clinical and genetic clues in patients ...

How children look at mom's face is influenced by genetic factors and altered in autism

July 12, 2017
New research has uncovered compelling evidence that genetics plays a major role in how children look at the world and whether they have a preference for gazing at people's eyes and faces or at objects.

Oxytocin improves social abilities in some kids with autism, study finds

July 10, 2017
Children with autism showed improved social behavior when treated with oxytocin, a hormone linked to social abilities, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Children with low ...

Possible early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

June 29, 2017
Measuring a set of proteins in the blood may enable earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study from the Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

box-of-tricks
5 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2014
Yet another author with Apple syndrome re: iPad title.
kevinwilton5
not rated yet Jul 10, 2014
Let's not be so brand precious, I am sure any tablet would have had the identical result.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.