Yes, you read that right. My three year old has his very own iPad. I think it was the smartest purchase I have ever made. We occasionally get stares in public places when I take out his iPad and hand it to him. I’ve had people even say to me, “he’s only 3, what on earth does he need an iPad for?” Well, I will tell you.
My son Cole has Angelman Syndrome. Because of this, his ability to communicate is severely limited. We have offered a lot of alternative methods of communication with him, such as signing and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System where you use picture cards to assist in communication). Giving him multiple communication options will hopefully lead to more effective communication.
When Cole started speech therapy through the “Birth to Three” program, they had just gotten access to an iPad. At first, I was confused as to how an iPad would help him communicate. I automatically associate the word “iPad” with entertainment, which I’m sure a lot of us do. How was “Angry Birds” going to help Cole tell me what he wants? I learned very quickly that there is so much more to the iPad than Facebook and games.
For children and adults unable to physically speak, there are apps that allow the iPad to be their voice. Currently, Cole uses a free app called “Sounding Board.” As he becomes more effective using the iPad, we will be purchasing one of the more advanced communication apps. Some of these range upwards of $150 or more. We have been saving iTunes gift cards because our insurance currently doesn’t cover this type of communication device. The app that Cole uses is able to be customized. You can use pictures to represent words. For example, this choice board that we have for Cole is to help him choose what he wants for breakfast.
We haven’t gone much further yet with more than 2 choices, as he is still getting the hang of using it but you can put up to nine pictures on one page.
This has opened many doors for Cole. He can choose what he wants to eat, or what he wants to play with. He can let us know he’s hungry, or needs a diaper change.
Cole is still learning how to effectively use the iPad as a whole as well. We have a few apps on there that basically teach Cole cause and effect. If you touch this picture, then something will happen. It has been a long process to teach Cole to just use one touch when using the iPad, rather than slapping it a bunch of times. He still does that, but if he’s completely focused, he can manage to just touch once. Our next goal for him is to just use one finger instead of his whole hand.
But, the iPad isn’t just for communication (or games). It is a learning device as well. With the proper use in a classroom or at home, the iPad can provide additional resources for learning for all children, not just kids with special needs. Cole is currently working on something, which to us, is completely amazing. He can match pictures. We have an app that teaches a lot of preschool skills, such as matching, sorting, and more. One day during a “Birth to Three” session, we decided to give it a try to see what my little man could do. Honestly, I thought we would see a lot of random selections. I was very wrong. Cole matched every picture correctly. We decided to do it again. Every single picture, matched. We continue to practice this skill often, and have started to increase the difficulty. There are plenty of other educational “games” out there. You just need to determine the correct ones (and a lot of them are actually free!). My oldest enjoys helping Cole with learning his colors and letters on the iPad, and he’s benefiting from it as well.
The iPad can be more than just a gaming device or social media source. I truly believe this is a VERY valuable tool for our children, special needs or not.