There’s a lot of talk about how technology can aid seniors in cognitive therapy—even tech products like the Wii are becoming more widely used in senior living communities for physical and occupational therapy. But a new wave of apps and tech gadgets are making strides in another therapeutic area: Autism. The use of tech devices like tablets is a growing trend in educational institutions across the board, thanks to the ability to reduce textbook waste, but they’re proving especially beneficial for aiding children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
There are ergonomic benefits, as well, as carrying a single tablet with access to electronic textbooks drastically reduces strain on students’ backs–students who have been known to carry an average of 30 pounds or more worth of heavy books on their backs, according to a 2009 study.
Tech Benefits Children with ASD, and the Environment Too
Research demonstrates that autistic children are better able to concentrate and express themselves when they use technology devices like iPads and smartphones. Teachers who participated in the research were surprised at how well these devices enabled autistic children to engage with their peers and improve communication skills. Much like dietary changes and supplements lead to autism symptom improvement, technology stands to make a major impact in the lives of children with ASD.
Using this type of technology in the classroom, particularly in the ASD student population, provides a number of benefits to schools, students and the environment alike. Consider the fact that in 2008, the U.S. publishing industry alone harvested 125 million trees, also contributing a “massive carbon footprint” along with plenty of wastewater. The New York Times reports on research that finds that the carbon emissions of the average e-reader are offset after just the first year of use, and each e-reader displaces the production of 22.5 books. Combined, these facts are pretty convincing in leading to the conclusion that tablets and e-readers are better for the environment.
Now, consider the many resources used to engage children with ASD both in and out of the classroom. Many autistic children don’t relate well to printed texts, but are drawn to technology. They communicate visually, through rich images and photos, rather than the written word.
Traditionally, paper-based materials have been used to meet these needs. That means raw materials, paper production, printing, shipping, and eventual disposal are all necessary to make it happen. When the use of a single device holds promise for such a massive variety of activities, calendars, schedules, tactile experiences, the resources that can be saved through the use of tablets is astounding.
Autism Organizations Get in On the Action
Autism advocacy groups and organizations, recognizing the promise technology holds in autism while simultaneously having a positive impact on environmental issues, are taking strides to build awareness and make devices more accessible to families. AutismCares, for example, donated 180 iPads to families with autistic children in 2012.
Other organizations, like Autism Speaks, are getting in on the tech action, too, providing an online catalog of apps designed for or beneficial to autistic children and their families. Dozens of applications listed in the catalog provide everything from activity timers that aid functional skills to communication techniques for behavioral intervention and accessibility. That means less paper and textbook waste, combined with better engagement for children with ASD.
Autistic children are often visual learners, so touch-pad devices could be the missing link to building educational connections – and many autistic children have a strong interest in computers and gadgets, so tech creates an excellent bridge for both education and communication.
Used Tablet and Tech Donations Aid Children with ASD
You can help. If you have an old tablet that you no longer have use for, donating it to an organization that provides tech gadgets to children with ASD is an excellent way to give back to the community and help the environment. Instead of tossing your old gadgets in the trash, recycle it and give the gift of communication to a child who can benefit from more engaged learning.
The HollyRod Foundation introduced the “Give the Gift of Voice” campaign in 2010, designed to build awareness and get more use out of previously-owned gadgets. HollyRod has given away more tablets to children with autism than any other organization. If you’re getting rid of an old tablet, contact HollyRod or another organization to inquire about donating your used devices.
By incorporating more technology into the lives of autistic children, we’re not only preparing them to function better in the world, but we’re fostering valuable skills that can lead to prosperous careers, conserving the environment and preserving natural resources.
Image via www.audio-luci-store.it on Flickr