Insights to iPad Integration for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Insights to iPad Integration for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Since its launch, the iPad has received significant coverage across the media and various social media platforms. Although this coverage has been exponentially positive, the media has often ignored some of the many unanswered inquiries relating to the use of iPads by children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As a Hoboken Public Schools teacher and the President at Integrated Technology for Persons with Autism and Development Disabilities (ITPADD), I have worked with over 60 families as well as educated and trained thousands of parents, teachers and other professionals on this topic. I strongly stand by my belief that every person with ASD has specific needs that should to be addressed with the highest degree of planning.

The iPad does not replace therapy or formal ASD instruction, it enhances and supports it. This unique, innovative and powerful device can produce positive outcomes when used effectively. There are many academic and functional domain areas of that can be addressed when using an iPad. These areas include but are not limited to improvement of scheduling, motivation systems, academic skills, communication, video modeling, data collection and leisure activities.

There are five essential steps to effectively integrate an iPad into a daily repertoire for an individual with autism. The steps include:

Step 1. Identify a target skill(s) to improve

When identifying a skill to target, be very specific. Many parents and teachers who want to use an iPad with their child sometimes focus on too many skills to address  all at once. As a result, the expected outcomes they hoped to receive are not produced.

Step 2. Evaluate

When integrating iPad usage into the daily routine of an individual with ASD, we often think that any iPad model will work; that is not always the case. Choose an iPad that will best fit your child’s needs. For example, if you plan on using many video models to teach a skill, you may want to buy a 64GB instead of a 16GB iPad.  Thoroughly evaluating a child for an iPad may seem like an exhaustive process, but it is rather simple. Areas that are assessed include, but are not limited to, the device, fine motor skills, app selection, environment and accessories.

Step 3. App selection

This step is very crucial. When determining which apps might be part of a successful ASD integration program, it’s best to look for the latest and greatest apps on the market. I no longer read subjective reviews or "top 10 lists."  Deciding on which app to use is not as easy as simply downloading the app from a list. In fact, this method may be costly. Finding the most appropriate app may be a little more complex.  To combat confusion over what apps might make the most sense for your child/student, I designed an App Selection Rubric (ASR). The ASR is multi-dimensional method for evaluating an app, comprised of four areas. The areas include:

A)   Developer’s knowledge in the area in which the app was designed

B)   Ratings

C)   Ease of use

D)   Functionality. 


Personally, I own 2,310 apps. While this certainly exceeds the number of apps an everyday user will need for ASD integration, the number remains high due to many, many application trials. While it is ideal to download free or “lite” versions of educational apps to determine their effectiveness, a sneak peek is often not good enough when integrating app usage into an ASD educational plan. The experience of app developers vary in (a) their level of experience and expertise in the field of autism, (b) technology, (c) app design and (d) conceptual planning of how their app will be integrated and produce best outcomes. Because of this, it’s critical to properly investigate each app before determining its effectiveness in your ASD integration plan.

Step 4. Support

All developers are required to provide support when placing their app in Apple’s App Store. Unfortunately, the level of support varies from developer-to-developer and most support that is offered by developers pertains mostly to the functionality of the app. I have contacted many developers to discuss use of their apps for individuals with ASD and most could not answer my questions. Developers who possess experience in the field of autism are able to answer my questions efficiently, however, every individual with autism may learn in an individualized manner. Therefore, receiving answers to individualized questions cannot be expected. In addition to directly contacting developers, users may want to make sure that video tutorials and training manuals are available for each app. If they are not available, ask the developer to create them for you. If the developer truly believes that what they have produced may increase the quality of life for an individual with ASD, then they should oblige to your request.

Step 5. Training

Training is one of the most important aspects of using an iPad, yet it is so often overlooked. To appropriately integrate the use of an iPad into the everyday life of an individual with ASD, parents or teachers should be self-proficient in the iPad in general. Apple offers training at their retail locations. If you cannot attend those trainings, many professionals offer basic iPad training. If you do decide to attend private sector training, make sure that the person training is proficient in Apple technology, education and autism. My experience serves that parents and teachers always have additional questions that relate to their child.  Once you have learned how to use the iPad and get the most out of its many features, you will decide whether you need specific training on the apps you have selected. Parents and teachers can master the use of many apps on their own, but other apps require additional hands-on training. Training should also be provided for the individual with ASD on how to use the iPad and app.

If these steps are followed without taking any shortcuts, you’re ready to begin your journey in ASD iPad integration. Now that all of these components are in place, it is time for you to integrate the iPad into your child’s daily repertoire. HAVE FUN!!!

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Written by: Mark Mautone, ITPADD See other articles by Mark Mautone, ITPADD
About the Author:

Interested in learning more? Mark will be discussing iPad integration for individuals with ASD at Macworld/iWorld 2013 on Saturday, February 2 in San Francisco. iFAN passes are available for only $100 and can be purchased online here.


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Contact: [email protected] 

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Learn more about Mark & Hoboken Public Schools here

Download the ASR and iPad Assessment at

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