iPads and Autism. Setting Up Parameters

How will you use the iPad? 


1:1 iPad use is the most appropriate or viable way to deploy iPads into the classroom for students on the Spectrum. This gives each student ownership over their iPad; all of their work is stored on the one iPad; and the iPad is readily available when students need to use it. This avoids all kinds of confusion for the student who has Autism and also means they open up a screen that is familiar and personalized for them. Not doing this would be similar to handing a child with Autism a different ‘workbook’ each day.


Security Issues


Ensure iPads are all set up to prevent students from accessing sites, videos or apps that are not appropriate for them. The iPad has extremely good security options inbuilt into the iPad’s settings. You can set the iPad to only be able to access G rated apps, music, videos and other content. You can also prevent students from accessing the iTunes and App Store.
This is vital for students on the Spectrum because they are extremely ‘tech’ savvy and while we need security for the iPad, we also need to make available sites like YouTube that are normally restricted for students. Being able to restrict the content by setting age and ratings limits, means students can still watch age and education appropriate content. YouTube is an invaluable resource and I think shutting it off altogether cuts off access to some really great educational videos.


Selecting Apps

Having a core list of apps really helps. When I first started out on this journey, I had too many apps. It was overwhelming for me to try to learn how to use them and then teach the students how to use them. I now think it is wiser to start with a few apps….get to know how to use them and how to use them in your classroom and then you can add apps as you go. Be clear about what you want to do with the apps and this helps you to narrow the selection further.


Make sure you know how the apps work.

I suggest using the apps and playing with all the settings. Go through each step of the application and be aware of each step of the application. Can the app be adjusted and differentiated in the settings section? Is there a way to make the app easier, or harder? Think about how you can use these apps in an educational context for your students and how you can integrate the technology into your lessons.


Taking courses on iPad use can help you to navigate your way through the minefield of apps and get some idea of what apps to use. Go to www.digitallearningtree.com for courses on how to use iPads in the classroom.


Go to Vimeo, or Teacher Tube and other teacher educational sites for reviews on how to use apps. Additionally, there are lots of videos made by educators on how to use certain apps in the classroom. This is a fantastic resource and one I highly recommend.


Allocate the iPad for educational use only.


One of the very early decisions I made was to only have educationally based apps on the iPad….this did include educational games….but I left all other games off the device at the very early stage of iPad deployment into my classroom.


I believe this is a vital decision to make because I think children have plenty of opportunities to play games using various other technologies like the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Computer games etc. Keeping the iPad as an educational tool ensures that students will view the technology from this perspective.


The iPad should not be used as a ‘fill in’ or for ‘rewards’ - if the technology is being used this way, then it is not being used effectively and more importantly is not being utilized to create the best possible educational outcomes for your students.


The device cannot do the work for you or replace you as a teacher. 


You have to drive its use and be at the control panel. You decide what apps to use, how to use them and how you connect them to your overall curriculum and lesson plans. You will need to differentiate the use of the iPad and apps to suit your students who have Autism.


It is NOT enough to just hand a child the device without some preparation and instruction, let alone determining how the device will best assist each student’s learning outcomes. The iPad is essentially an educational tool and it will only be as effective as the teacher who is overseeing its use.


Finally, a couple of words on setting up parameters for using devices for students who are on the Spectrum:


Children who are on the Autism Spectrum need firm guidelines and parameters for using iPads both at home and the classroom. If we do this from the very start, then this will become a part of what is expected. We all know that developing routines and structures are extremely important, so it makes sense to introduce the iPad with some routine and structure.


Here are some suggested guidelines:


1. Introduce the iPad as a Personal Learning Studio. I believe we should keep all non-educational games off the iPad (at least in the early days). There are plenty of other opportunities for students to use games on other devices, so using the iPad for education only means that students recognize it as an educational tool, not another tool to play games.


2. Go to your Settings: General: Restrictions to enable restrictions on the iPad (I’ve mentioned this in detail above). You can prevent students from deleting or adding apps. You can also set up restrictions on the types of apps, books, videos etc that students can use. This way you have control over what your students/child is able to access on the iPad.






3. Set up routines and schedules for use. I use visual schedules (see picture below) with timers. So, during a literacy activity. I have the pictures of the icons that I want the student to use; and I set the timer for how long I want them to use the app for.






4. You have to be extremely strict from the very beginning. When I introduced the iPads in my classroom, I had very clear parameters. For example: these are the apps that I want you to use. I want you to use them for ten minutes, then you can go to the next app. If my students deviated, they would have the iPad removed for five minutes. If they did the same thing again, ten minutes and so on. Within two weeks, all of the students remained on task and stuck to the program. I rarely had to remove the iPad after this as they knew the consequences. After this time, I added a reward to the iPad routine. For example, when they stuck with the program, I allowed them ten minutes free time on the apps they loved.


5. Stimming off apps is quite common. For whatever reason, most kids on the Spectrum find apps that they really love and then can become addicted to these apps. I use these apps for my rewards, however sometimes I opt to remove these apps for a period of time. If the app is not on the iPad then students are prevented from stimming. I will add the app back onto the iPad if the student demonstrates over a couple of weeks that they can follow the parameters. You can easily add apps back onto the iPad once it’s been removed by going to ‘Purchased’ apps in the App Store. See picture below:





 6. After a few months of established use, where my students follow the guidelines and are clear about the parameters, I will allow some other ‘game’ type apps onto their iPad. Again, this comes with the knowledge by the student that the app can be removed at any time.


In conclusion, these guidelines might seem a little harsh, but I’ve been working with students on the Spectrum using iPads for almost four years and these are tried methods. As mentioned above, students who are on the Spectrum appreciate and understand structure, so it makes sense that we implement structure for technology use as well.




Karina is an Australian teacher with over 20 years’ experience in both mainstream and special education. Her interest in Autism and how to provide better educational opportunities for her students led her to iPads. Karina conducts professional development for teachers in Australia, works as an Autism Consultant and conducts a number of online courses on iPads in Education, Autism Awareness, and 21st Century Education. She can be contacted through her website: www.projectautismaustralia.com




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