Autism community sees promise in iPad apps

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The iPad is a tool Karen Bonini uses to help her autistic students improve their language skills.

"This is a practical way to use an educational tool in the classroom that adds to what you are doing because you are eliciting language, that's all I want to do is get language from my kids," Bonini said.

Bonini has been testing an app called Injini made by a company in Albany.

Anna Johnson is with Project Injini. She says both the auditory and visual cues in one game help children with autism retain new words.

In another game, the back and forth action done while sheering the sheep helps develop their fine motor skills, needed to start writing.

The iPad also allows Bonini to move around and teach anywhere in the classroom.

It also encourages independent play. Shannon Rosa of Redwood City still remembers that phone call, she says, changed her son's life.

"I got a phone call saying I had won an iPad," she said. "'OK, that sounds great,'"

Her son Leo was already using a iPod Touch with little success.

"He has problems with fine motor skills, it didn't matter how fun the apps were, he couldn't manipulate them properly," Rosa said.

But the bigger screen on the iPad changed everything.

"I wrote a word, I think it was 'goat.' I started writing 'G'-'O' and he said 'Go,' and I wrote 'A'-'T' and he said 'Goat' and he wrote it and I just about died," Rosa said.

Leo attends the Morgan Autism Center in San Jose. They use several learning tools, including the more traditional ones. But Leo often loses his focus. He has much better results when working with a touch screen and sticks with it for a long time.

Apple contacted Rosa after she blogged about the results and when Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPad 2, Leo was featured in the video playing behind him.

Today, the number of apps designed for children with autism and those with learning issues continues to grow.

The Injini app costs $49.99. And certainly there are others. The San Jose-based non-profit Parents Helping Parents has a list of its favorite apps for kids with learning disabilities and Rosa has compiled her own list on her blog.

Debbie Drennan of Parents Helping Parents has studied hundreds of them.

"In 10 years it will be wearable, we'll be wearing these things, not caring them around anymore, they'll be a part of our outfit," Drennan said.

And Rosa and Leo will be first in line to try them out.

Morgan Autism Center
1-Day Autism Conference, Saturday Oct. 1
8 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
Santa Clara University-Mayer Theatre
500 El Camino Real
San Jose, Calif.

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