By Jennifer Nairne

“Autism Spectrum Disorders” is a phrase used to describe a range of complex developmental disabilities, usually “classic” autism, Asperger syndrome, and “atypical autism”. Although different people may exhibit symptoms with similar features, for reasons not yet understood, the degree of severity can vary drastically. Behavioral problems and repetitive actions are typical to many, but challenges in communicating in socializing are shared by nearly every individual “on the spectrum.”About 1 in every 88 American children is on the autism spectrum, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and around 25% of those children are completely nonverbal. Thankfully, technological advances have made enormous strides in providing families with the tools and resources they need to support their kids with special needs.

The iPad has revolutionized the way in which many families function every day. These families rely on apps being developed that allow their children to engage in life.Even young children are able to interact and express themselves in ways we never thought possible before the introduction of the iPad.

Apps using “augmentative and alternative communication” empower kids to be more independent by supplementing or replacing speech that is not functional. Users select symbols, pictures, phrases, words, or letters and a voice output relays the message to others. Kids are finally able to express the emotions, needs, and desires that have been locked away because of their inability to communicate effectively. Some of the most popular apps include Proloquo2go, Touch Chat, One Voice, and Predictable, but there are dozens of others and vary in the features and vocabulary offered.

For those kids who are able to verbalize, many continue to struggle with a variety of challenges that impede their ability to communicate effectively. Apps like Sentence Builder, Conversation Builder, Language Builder, Speech Tutor, the Speech with Milo series, and Splingo’s Langue Universe all focus on developing language and speech, as well as many of the social skills needed to successfully navigate the world. Kids can practice maintaining eye contact and smiling, prepare for the behaviors expected at school, etc.Parents find a variety of tools available to assist and support them with day-to-day life. Many apps offer customization to include personal pictures and video.

Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism advocacy organization,currently lists more than 250 apps that have been recommended by their online community network. Several categories help parents pinpoint specific skills that need to be developed or supported with technology, including communicating, language, functional skills and social skills.TouchAutism.com is another website with a great list of apps in more than 30 categories, including fine motor and writing skills; colors; reward systems and time. At AutismApps.wikispaces.com, parents can find a comprehensive review of using learning technologies for autism.

The rapid development of iPad apps specifically targeting the needs of children with autism has been more than a blessing for many families – some of the success stories can even be called miraculous. Technology may not cure the frustrating and challenging symptoms these kids deal with on a daily basis. Instead the iPad is your toolbox and these apps your tools, each with a specific purpose and function. Parents can use the resources to ensure their unique child will live up to his fullest potential.JN