For many children, an iPad is a sleek and conveniently portable device to listen to music, watch movies, play games or connect with friends via social media. But for 6-year-old Aidan McKoski, the iPad is becoming an essential communications tool.
Because he is autistic, everyday interactions – like having play dates with other kids, telling his mom what he wants for lunch, or reading a story book with his dad – are a challenge for Aidan.
But Aidan’s parents, Brittany and Todd Wetzel, are thrilled with the breakthroughs he has made since he received an iPad, which was funded by the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board.
Lisa Gonidakis, a speech therapist at Akron Children’s Hospital who has been working with Aidan for three years, is also thrilled with the results she is seeing.
“For Aidan, the iPad is opening new doors and allowing Aidan to build his vocabulary,” said Gonidakis. “It empowers children who are non-verbal or poorly understood. Many people assume that a child who doesn’t talk doesn’t have something to say and that is a very wrong assumption.”
With estimates showing that 1 in 100 children are now being diagnosed with autism in the United States, Gonidakis worries that some parents will assume the iPad and other new communication devices hitting the market are the “answer” to autism.
While they won’t transform a non-verbal child into a verbal child overnight, they do seem to be a very effective tool in therapy, at home and at school.
Aidan will be taking it with him when he starts kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School in Cuyahoga Falls.
Like all children, Gonidakis believes children with autism are drawn to the music, colors, sounds and animation of the iPad.
“But it is the predictable, stable nature of the play that children with autism and other communication disorders really seem to do well with,” said Gonidakis. “The iPad gives them feedback without the surprises they get when they interact with people.”
Various games and apps allow Aidan to learn sounds, letters and pre-reading skills. One app encourages him to build on his attention span as more and more elements – dancing flowers, starfish, spirals – are slowly added to the screen.
To further empower him, Aidan’s parents have let him know the iPad is his and his alone. As he gets older, he may point to pictures, hit images that verbalize words or even type words and sentences to communicate to his parents and others.
“I want him to verbalize, but if instead he starts out typing his thoughts, that’s fine,” said Todd. “This will give Aidan a voice.”