By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Kristie Kemner says it is most important to look at progress as a whole when working with children who have autism and similar conditions.
"No two children with autism are alike," said Kemner, a speech therapist at Quincy Medical Group. "What you always need to remember is where they started -- and where they are at now."
One of the newest tools in helping children with autism and related conditions develop their verbal skills is the iPad.
The devices have proven to be essential tools in many cases, helping nonverbal children communicate, largely because of the visual learning experiences they provide, not to mention their easy portability. Kemner said she has seen some remarkable breakthroughs involving the iPad and autistic children. The device can initially become an autistic child's communication tool, helping build a basic visual foundation that leads to verbal breakthroughs.
"The iPads and (other similar devices) ... can be designed for each child's specific needs," said B.J. Berhorst, a QMG heavioral health coordinator. "Children today are learning new concepts through the use of technology, and using iPads as treatment is a unique opportunity to connect therapy and learning with children's specific interests."
The iPad is also being used with children who suffer from apraxia of speech, traumatic brain injuries, oral motor issues and other conditions. Childhood apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder. Children with apraxia of speech have great difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary for intelligible speech.
Speech and occupational therapists use iPads to supplement traditional methods. The iPads can be used with children of all ages, coinciding with their level of function and specific academic and social deficits.
The iPad is more effective than a desktop or laptop because it does not have a keyboard, giving children direct control of the interface. For example, the iPad appeals to children suffering from autism with its interactive touch display, and it gives the therapist access to important academic and social skill building lessons. "Touch" and "feel" are important to many autistic children.
"The iPad has become hugely popular for use with children with autism because they are so drawn to a visual, touch experience," Kemner said. "We feel that not only are we addressing some of our patients' speech and language goals, but we have also seen improvements."
Speech-language pathologist Danielle Samson of Palo Alto, Calif., who works with children with autism, told writer Susanna Baird of AOL News.com that she adopted the iPad almost as soon as it came out. She feels it fosters improvements in many skill areas.
"I'm not going to be one of those people that calls it a miracle device, (but) it helps to increase a lot of small factors that really affect children with autism, such as attention, motivation, interest and their ability to interact," Samson said.
Hundreds of apps can be used, depending on the individual child's needs to improve language, vocabulary, positional concepts, phonics, comprehension, language expression, basic math and emotional communication.
"Autism is something we can't explain," Kemner said. "It is the epitome of trial and error."