In the study, Ann Kaiser, researcher at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development, found that using speech-generating devices to encourage children ages 5 to 8 to develop speaking skills resulted in the subjects developing considerably more spoken words compared to other interventions.
"For some parents, it was the first time they'd been able to converse with their children. With the onset of iPads, that kind of communication may become possible for greater numbers of children with autism and their families," Kaiser said.
Augmentative and alternative communication devices- which employ symbols, gestures, pictures and speech output- have been used for decades by people who have difficulty speaking.
Now, with the availability of apps that emulate those devices, the iPad offers a more accessible, cheaper and more user-friendly way to help minimally verbal children with autism to communicate. And, the iPad is far less stigmatizing for young people with autism who rely on them for communicating with fellow students, teachers and friends.
While explaining the reason to why speech-generating devices like the iPad are effective in promoting language development is simple, Kaiser said that when we say a word it sounds a little different every time, and words blend together and take on slightly different acoustic characteristics in different contexts.
Every time the iPad says a word, it sounds exactly the same, which is important for children with autism, who generally need things to be as consistent as possible, she said.
The study will be available in Spring 2014.