iPad and Autism?

As a home-based Early Intervention provider traveling to various locations throughout New York City each day, I find my iPhone to be invaluable. It is quite possibly the best “business” expense of my career. It lurks in my bag as a secret weapon of motivation and reinforcement where once a gaggle of heavy and semi-effective toys resided.

With the huge presence that technology has in our lives today it is only inevitable that some gadgets make their way into therapeutic endeavors. While there are negative effects to being plugged in all of the time, it’s hard for me to ignore those moments where technology allows a child to learn something that had been previously difficult or the amazing instances of joint attention that can be facilitated by using these apps. Without a doubt, I’m sold on the fact that the new gadgets with touch screens will continue to be an invaluable tool moving forward in my work with children. However, I can’t silence the little contradictory voice in my head telling me that teaching happens in real life, not on a screen.

Therefore, I use my iPhone in therapy sessions with children sparingly. I am the one setting limits on usage and modeling durations of time that are reasonable and appropriate. Approximately 90% of the apps I use are educational and present great opportunities for the generalization of skills taught using DTT or NET methods. I have also downloaded social skills training videos that have facilitated preparation for things like going to get a haircut. Even though that tiny voice still lurks in the back of my head, the more I read and hear, I am beginning to think that the consensus of people in this community is mainly positive.

I am most excited about programs such as Proloquo2Go, which use the iPad as a more portable and user-friendly augmentative communication device. Not unlike the endless list of apps, the uses are never-ending as well, as outlined in a great article in the SF weekly from August 11, 2010. The iPad and various apps are helping therapists and parents teach children how to draw, write, communicate, read, spell, count, and increase independence through visual schedules.

Using technology hasn’t compromised what or how much I am able to teach. It has enhanced my sessions. How do you feel about it?

Fun (And Learning) In The Sun!

Discrete trial teaching and a home-based ABA program, without a doubt, play an integral part in a child’s ongoing progress.  However, during the summer months here in New York City all I can think about is PLAY. The sun is shining, playgrounds are full of children and there are child friendly events for free all over the city.  I can’t help but seize these summer moments and optimize the huge array of incidental teaching opportunities they provide.  The playground is the perfect place to start to generalize all of the play skills that the child has mastered with you during the year and facilitate them with novel peers.  The headache of trying to schedule play dates during the winter months fades, there are children everywhere you turn, and kids outside ready to make new friends.

The novelty of an outdoor children’s concert playground or sprinklers can be motivating enough to get the child in the mix with other kids.  I find that having the child I am working with take a popular item on the outing can serve as a really powerful icebreaker and readily grab the attention of all the kids there.  Items to consider include; sidewalk chalk, bubbles, water balloons, a foam rocket launcher or a bug kit.  It is easy to rehearse possible scenarios the child might encounter with one of these items in hand and the rehearsal can lead to greater success and less prompting once you are at the playground.

Another programmatic shift that happens for me during the summer is to take time to help the child see the bigger picture.  Many children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder understand the parts of things but may have difficulty conceptualizing ‘the whole’.  For example, if the child is showing an interest in airplanes take some time before heading out to expand on this interest.  I like to sit down with a child and draw out what I call a “Play Map.”  It is a flow chart of all of the things connected to an airplane, drawing arrows to show how all of the parts connect together.   This is a great way to flesh out a larger play schema and rehearse possible play scenarios other children might generate at the playground in relation to the toy airplane.  All of this preparation will ultimately lead to better outcomes at the playground and more fun had by all!