A recent 60 Minutes segment titled “Apps for Autism: Communicating on the iPad” discussed how educators and parents are discovering the possible benefits of using an iPad as a form of communication with severely autistic people. As many as thirty percent of people with autism are unable to speak, and apps such as Proloquo2Go and AutismXpress have made it possible for these individuals to communicate. Proloquo2Go was released for the iPhone in 2009 and was the first augmented (or alternative) communication app, but about 142 apps have been released this year. In addition, apps have been developed for the Android system. A lot of the apps are based on the Picture Exchange Communication System.
Educators and parents have been amazed by the results. For example, prior to using an iPad, 28-year old Joshua Hood mostly communicated with family via a form of charades or using a laminated sheet of letters, but after using an iPad, he is capable of communicating much more quickly and can order food at a local diner. In addition educators at the Beverley School in Toronto, Canada have seen incredible benefits from the use of iPads in the classrooms. The ability to communicate has made it much easier for educators and parents to understand the desires and wishes of the children (e.g., it was discovered that one 10 year-old student at the Beverley School that was believed to have the IQ of a toddler actually has an extensive vocabulary and is a fan of opera and classical music). The educators and parents believe that the children prefer computers to humans because computers are predictable.
Dr. Walter Schneider from the University of Pittsburgh is currently conducting research to determine if disruptions in the brain’s connective circuits are responsible for the language problems for people with autism. His first subject for testing was Temple Grandin, the renowned professor and doctor of animal science. Dr. Schneider scanned Ms. Grandin’s brain and used high definition fiber tracking (an MRI-based test that is also being used to study traumatic brain injuries) to compare her brain with the brain of someone without autism. The scans show that the wiring in Ms. Grandin’s brain is much more disorganized than the wiring in the brain of the person without autism. Dr. Schneider will need to test more subjects before making any definitive scientific conclusions.