The Benefits of using Photos on the iPad for Children who Have Autism

The Value of Using Photos for Children with Autism


Students on the Autism Spectrum often have short attention spans, have difficulty adapting to change and may find difficulty in expressing themselves appropriately. Using pictures, pictographs or photographs can improve their ability to communicate by providing a visual image for their feelings, thoughts, wants or needs. Viewing pictures of routines/schedules can make transitions easier since the children can visually see what is expected of them and what comes next.




Additionally, using pictures for communication can help increase a child’s memory skills, their understanding of the world, and improve their social communication abilities. The iPad is particularly conducive to using photos because it has an inbuilt camera and video; photos can be stored on the device itself and easily accessible to the student.


Photos are beneficial because they are:

  • Immediate & instantaneous 
  • Reminders of activities
  • Relevant & current
  • Makes lessons personal to the students
  • Fun & interesting


In the classroom and learning, photos can be used in:

  • Personal diaries
  • Stories – especially social stories
  • Creating montage/poster style work
  • Creating vocabulary/spelling lists
  • Word and picture matching
  • Instructions and information
  • Daily routines and timetables
  • Visual schedules
  • Keynote presentations with real pictures
  • Creating worksheets that are more relevant & real
  • Creating moveable & audio-visual worksheets that are exciting & motivating.


Applications that can use photos:





Here is a list of some of my favourite apps that use photos:


  • Comic Life
  • Strip Designer
  • eBook Magic
  • eBook Creator
  • Scribble Press
  • Creative Book Builder
  • Aurasma
  • Show Me
  • Educreations
  • Explain Everything
  • Knowmia Teach
  • iDiary
  • iMovie
  • Videoscribe
  • Keynote
  • Pages
  • Haiku Deck
  • Pictello
  • Spellboard
  • Popplet
  • Grafio


This is not a definitive list but after researching for years, I think the above apps are the most appealing to students who have Autism.


A huge percentage of apps can integrate photos into the story which lends to the ‘visual’ appeal for the students. Also, photos can personalise stories, events and instructions making this an extremely important teaching and therapeutic tool. The following examples are how I’ve used photos in classroom projects:











As a final word, I believe using photos during the daily language process for students who are on the Spectrum provide opportunities for them to firstly engage in the world and then share that experience with others. Sometimes these children are reluctant and shy about using and taking photos of themselves. They are not as ready to take ‘selfies’ as neurotypical children are and in fact this is almost a foreign concept to them. Using photos regularly and even daily assists these children in becoming more self-aware and self-confident. The technology just provides us with a vehicle to make that happen.


I have permission to use the pictures in this article by the parents of the children in the photos.




Read the series of Child Development Club posts by Karina and learn the many benefits of using the iPad with children with special needs:



Karina D. Barley, GradDipEd, Posgrad DipEd, Med (SpEd), 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: 



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