By Denise Dick
Curtis Bevly and Chris Blair pore over their iPads, barely glancing up when someone enters the room.
The two boys, Curtis, 10, of Youngstown, and Chris, 12, of Hubbard, are students at the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University.
Last June, the center bought 35 iPads — one for each teacher — using a federal grant.
One of the challenges of children with autism is difficulty with communication.
“This gives them the opportunity to communicate,” said J. Georgia Backus, center director.
The devices also work well with children with autism-spectrum disorder who often have tactile sensitivity, said Brendan Considine, classroom supervisor at the center. They won’t pick up pencils or pens to write, but the iPad allows the students to use only their hands.
Chris was playing a game with dinosaurs on his device while Curtis did math problems, counting the number of fruits on each screen and selecting the corresponding numbers. He got 20 out of 20 correct.
The iPads allow children who are nonverbal to have the ability to communicate. Without a child being able to communicate, teachers have difficulty determining if the child is absorbing what’s being taught, Considine said.
“It’s a way for us to know what’s up here,” he said, touching Curtis’ head.
The devices show teachers that the information is getting through.
The iPad also works well because it’s colorful, intuitive and immediate.
“Children with autism spectrum are very visual,” Considine said.
Language proves difficult for those with the disorder, but the device helps overcome that barrier as well.
“You’re not just telling them how to do something,” Considine said. “It’s different when they’re seeing it on a screen.”
When the child gets an answer correct, there’s immediate feedback — the sound of applause or a song.
After seeing how well their children work with the technology, some parents have bought iPads for their children to use at home.
After seeing how well her son Carson, 11, worked with the iPad, Jenny Ellis of Boardman bought one.
“He’s enthralled by it,” she said.
Children with autism are very visual, and the technology uses visual elements, Ellis said.
“He’s just in his glory with it,” she said. “It’s been a great investment for me. There are so many applications that you can purchase and some that are free. There’s a lot of educational tools in those applications.
“He’s really into math, and there are tons of math apps that are education-based.”
It helps Carson with reading too.
“It highlights words, and there’s audio with it,” Ellis said. “He’s learning to read bigger words. He’s not able to speak very well himself. With reading with the iPad, after awhile he’s reading along with the book.”
The device also is relatively affordable.
Though computer software that allows nonverbal children to communicate costs between $7,000 and $10,000, the iPad does the same thing and costs about $500 plus the cost of applications, Considine said.
A rubber case around the device protects it from being damaged, but Considine said the children aren’t typically rough with them.
“They don’t usually throw things they like to use,” he said.
Although the iPad didn’t initially target people with autism, at the unveiling of the iPad 2 last month, Apple creator Steve Jobs touted its success in use by children with autism.
“I’ve not seen anything that holds their attention as well,” Considine said.