"Of course, in addition, the technology is also cool, and automatically draws interest from other peers," said Myles, who was formally chief of programs for the Autism Society of America. "But certainly not all apps will work for all children, or will work in the same way. You do have to match the app to the learner, and each learner will be different. But generally speaking, these devices enhance skills and interest in communication. And they're easy to learn, easy to use and, best of all, low-cost."
The importance of the latter point is not lost on Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, associate director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"Practically speaking, the older tech was extraordinarily expensive and cumbersome," he noted. "So this is a real advance, because you're not comparing the cost of an iPad and apps with books and other low-tech tools. You're really comparing these new devices with the old world of technology, in which machines that produce language cost thousands of dollars."
But what should parents make of this finding?
"Certainly, many families worry that if they rely too much on a communication device it will interfere with their autistic child's ability to talk," acknowledged Brosco. "But we find that it's actually a bridge to talking, because it gives these children a different mode with which to communicate. It helps them use language in a functional capacity, by giving them a way to get there faster and more efficiently. So, in general, I'd say this is a wonderful boon to families of autistic children."
The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more on autism, visit Autism Speaks.
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