Like most seven year olds these days my children love their iPads! YouTube, CBeebies iPlayer and website, and various games are watched and played almost daily. There are some amazing web sites and apps for children and some wonderful communication apps too but today I wanted to think about six quite different ways you could use an iPad or tablet with a child who has autism or learning difficulties. There is so much more a tablet can do than just have games on. 

I have used all of these with my seven year old twins with great success. 

  1. Use the tablet to reassure an anxious child when you cannot be there.

Recently I had to attend a hospital appointment for myself which meant I would not be home when my children came home from their different schools. For both my children this is a major issue and their anxiety regarding the change and my absence could have had a knock on effect for weeks. 

So I used the iPad to leave an individual video for my children so they could see me and hear my voice even when I was not with them.

That simple act was loved by both children and even more so by my husband who was able to cook tea and start homework while the kids watched mummy on repeat!  

  1. Use the tablet to help overcome major transitions.

The best example I have for this is the fact we were totally stuck how to get my non-verbal seven year old with severe autism into the dentist. He loved the waiting room so much and we had complete meltdown every time we tried taking him away from the lift or automatic doors. So once again I used the video feature but this time I videoed my son watching the doors and took the video from his angle ensuring he got the same effect and noises he did when he was there. When his name was called I put the video on and he followed the iPad into the dentist room for the first time ever! He has yet to let me delete that video. 

  1. Use the tablet to prepare for new experiences in a more meaningful way.

Pictures, pecs and words are wonderful but they can rarely give you a true picture of what a new experience might feel like. For every one of us the more senses we experience something with the better we understand. So when my children were invited to a birthday party as well as using symbols to explain what it was I also used You Tube and we watched a number of different parties to show what might happen, what they might hear and what games may be played. This seemed to help them both understand what this new idea was more and we managed to enjoy a little time at the party the next day. You would be amazed what there are videos of on You Tube! 

  1. Use the tablet to give the same sensory feedback a child craves but in a safer way.

This is the same concept that is used when a child is jumping on a bed and a parent then buys a trampoline to give a safer place to get the same feedback.

My son is a sensory seeker and adores lifts, automatic doors and hand dryers. We came across an app last year called my play school (there is also my play home, my play street and my play hospital) where there are virtual lifts with the same buttons as real ones, hand dryers he can press and hear in the bathrooms and lots more realistic sounds and reactions that mean he can seek out his needs while being in the safety of his own home. It is at its most useful when he thinks we should go watch lifts at 2am. 

  1. Use the tablet to keep your child safe if they are a flight risk.

Both my children would wander easily. The outside world lures my son like a magnet and he craves the need to wander off. Last year I introduced him to the wonderful world of Google Street Maps and this has single-handedly saved his life on so many occasions. Even with severe learning difficulties, fine motor difficulties and vision impairment he has worked out how to navigate Google Street Maps and he can now safely wander off to his heart’s content. He goes the wrong way down motorways, goes right through red traffic lights and continues through roundabouts without so much as giving way...all the time being safe on the sofa. The peace of mind this gives me cannot be underestimated. 

  1. Use the tablet together to share and talk about memories together.

When I was young my parents loved going through photos of when I was a child; at Christmas, on holiday, or on birthdays. As an adult some of these memories were so long ago I was unable to really talk about them. So I regularly sit with my twins and we look through the camera roll on the iPad and remind them of places we have been, people we have met and special occasions. This helps them process events, time, people and seasons and gives us wonderful times together with videos and pictures to share. Even though my son cannot speak he enjoys pointing at places he really liked or people he recognises and this gives us both bonding moments that bring us all closer as a family.

For us tablets are not just something my children play on for hours socially isolated, but rather a key technology we use together to help them learn, communicate and understand the world around us. I even use it now for taking notes at meetings, and guess what? I used a tablet to write this blog too! 

What other unique ways can you use a tablet? 

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You can also find out more about our Digital Skills Programme, supporting families to get the most from their devices.