Study supports iPads as a conversational tool for individuals with autism

Hussman Institute intern Arsema Ghirmai and associate clinical researcher Fernanda Orsati read with program participant Neil.


At the Hussman Institute for Autism, staff teach minimally-verbal program participants to use iPads and hand gestures to communicate requests like, “I want a drink,” or “I need a break.” It’s certainly important for individuals with autism to learn to communicate their basic needs, but full participation in one’s community requires social communication—where the reward is not as tangible as a snack or a break from an activity. That’s why HIA support staff also work on developing more conversational use of the iPads to make comments like, “Daniel’s book is funny.”

A team at the University of Arkansas produced data that provide evidence that iPads can indeed facilitate social communication in children with autism. They also provided a suggested training routine for teaching iPad use. “I think the iPad piece is a great addition to the research base,” said Ashlyn Smith, associate clinical researcher at the Hussman Institute for Autism, “That’s why I got interested in looking at the iPads—they are increasingly being used as tools for communication and we need research to demonstrate their efficacy.”